Matt and Heidi Messner, senior pastors of Faith Center (Eureka Foursquare Church) in Eureka, Calif., led a team of 19 people from several congregations to Haiti in September. Their purpose: to rebuild Orphanage by Faith, located in Jacmel, a city of 40,000 near Port-au-Prince.
The team of 19 was comprised of three members from The Journey (Madison Metro Foursquare Church) in Madison, Wis., pastored by Steve Cecil; one from Eastside Foursquare Church in Bothell, Wash., pastored by Jim Hayford; two from a Nazarene church also in Eureka; 12 from Faith Center; and Phyllis Ulrich, a missionary with Foursquare Missions International (FMI).
Matt Messner learned about the plight of the orphanage through his friends Steve Cecil and Chris Sahlman, a missionary who was in Haiti when the earthquake struck in January. Chris was thrown from his bed when his building lifted off the ground three times. He was sure it would collapse and kill him, but he lived to be part of the team that traveled to Jacmel to rebuild Orphanage by Faith. It was his first time back since the quake had struck.
“I had heard that there was an urgent need for help with this particular orphanage, and I knew that there were people who were willing and able to go and help out,” Matt tells Foursquare.org. “I felt that we had a responsibility to do whatever we could to help rebuild their orphanage.”
Their purpose, Matt explains, was to get as far as they could toward rebuilding while also conducting a camp for the children of the orphanage and the neighboring community. He says he was shocked by how dire the country is, even today.
“Much of Haiti is a complete disaster,” describes Matt, noting that many people are living in tents and that relief efforts can’t come close to meeting the needs. “It is going to be a long road of recovery, and many are suffering while that process slowly takes place.”
“Haiti looks as if it has been through the destruction usually associated with war,” states Chuck Hubler, a member of the team. “I left asking the question, how will Haiti get rebuilt? I know it sounds imperialistic, but they need outside intervention.”
The daily routine consisted of half the team conducting a kid’s camp, while the other half worked on building the walls of the orphanage.
“The camp with the kids was a great success,” Matt affirms. “For a week they had a great time doing music, crafts, storytelling and much more. Many of the children had never even used a crayon before. We brought the orphans small hygiene kits and a few toys. They were extremely grateful.”
There were more than a few challenges in rebuilding the orphanage. Supplies for construction came in slowly, as the demand for materials in Haiti is much greater than what is available. The team had only two interpreters, and one day they had to be pulled from the kid’s camp to help get materials. Still, Matt says, they were able to purchase materials and help with the labor, resulting in the walls being more than halfway finished.
“We would have loved to do more,” Matt conveys. “We do not yet have the resources and didn’t have the time to get further than that. We are committed to seeing the building completed, so we will continue to raise funds, and we are likely to send another team early in 2011.”
Chuck Hubler notes that the orphans and their leaders are living in tents in the field where they used to grow food.
“The children are very loving, and the caretakers showed the highest level of gratitude,” Chuck says.
“Many tears were shed when we left,” Matt adds. “Their current situation is desperate, but improving quickly.”
Some Christians have questioned the value of short-term missions and ministry trips. When asked about this, Matt does not hesitate to affirm their worth, within certain guidelines.
“Short-term trips will change the worldview of the traveler in a positive and unmatchable way. This is very valuable,” he asserts. “The limited value is the impact that they may or may not have within the country where they travel.
“In order to be effective,” Matt continues, “short-term mission teams must focus on what they can do to serve the local community, missionaries and churches—not what they want to do. If a team goes to serve and to meet specific needs, they can be very effective. If they go with their own agenda, they can be more of a burden then a blessing.”
Matt has no doubts about the role he is to play: “I know that I am called to do all that I can to assist with the needs of global poverty—in whatever small way I can do this. The needs are overwhelming, but when you focus on individuals, you realize you can make a difference in one life at a time.”