By MICHAEL DUNBAR
Seven years ago Pastor Antoine Jean Rigaud and his wife, Melande, traveled from Haiti to Carrollton to attend leadership training with International Leadership Institute. I met them both and the pastor came to my church in Rome to preach one Sunday.
A friendship was started that has lasted seven years.
One week after the earthquake I finally got in touch with Rigaud and he told me of the critical needs for his 42 children at the orphanage and the people of his church. He said they were scared, sick and hurt with no food, clean water or shelter. The pastor has an orphanage, a school and a church that can hold 3,000 people.
All buildings are still standing. Rigaud said that the Lord told him that before he became a pastor, he get a degree in civil engineering. He is glad that he was obedient.
Pastor Rigaud went on to tell me that the children are sleeping outside because they are frightened of the tremors. There are also about 2,000 people living outside, around the orphanage, and another 6,000 living around the church. I heard the fear and helplessness in his voice. He cried out that “his people were hurting, please come.”
I flew to the Dominican Republic and then went to Port au Prince to see what I can do. I was not ready for what I saw, the tent cities, the people living in the streets with no clean water and no food. And worst of all, a pastor who was hurting for his people and could not help.
We stopped in Barahona and bought a truckload of food, water and other supplies . I have had other Methodist churches give money and it has helped to purchase more food and water.
On a follow-up trip we met and partnered with the Catholic Relief Services, who had much relief supplies but did not know local pastors in the neighborhoods of Port au Prince.
Our next trip is April 18 and we are taking doctors, nurses, a pharmacist and an EMT from Carrollton First UMC, First Baptist Carrollton, Tanner Hospital, Lagrange and Griffin District. We already prepared a clinic of four rooms at the school and church and we are opening a permanent clinic for the local 10,000 people.
I met two local doctors and nurses who are out of work because their hospital was destroyed and we have hired them and given the jobs to work fulltime in the clinic. We will be sending down medical teams to work alongside of them.
Relief is slowly getting through but there is a critical need for a clinic to see to the many needs of the people. We did not want to go down and do everything for the Haitian people. We wanted to bring them fish but we also wanted to bring them fishing poles. They are a proud people and we are giving them back their dignity.
While emptying some of the many 55-pound bags of rice to divide up, I thought of the many empty bags that will be littering Haiti. I was reminded how my wife talks to me about bringing a tote bag to the grocery store. I decided to start collecting the empty bags. We are hiring about 10 women to make tote bags out of the old rice bags. We will sell them back home in Georgia for $5 per bag, which equates to 35 Haitian dollars, which is about one month’s wages. We should have our first shipment of bags in about a month.
I am so thankful to God, and my church at Mt. Pleasant, for allowing me and going with me to help our brothers and sisters in Haiti. If you would like to go on a team (we need medical and construction help) or would like to sell rice bags, contact me. Our work has only started.
This article recently ran in the North Georgia Advocate, the official print source of the North Georgia United Methodist Conference. For more information about the North Georgia Advocate, or to subscribe, please visit www.ngumc.org/advocate or call 678.533.1376.