Skip to comments.Quake hits home for former Mormon missionaries to Haiti [LDS Caucus]
Posted on 01/19/2010 12:24:56 PM PST by TheDon
Houses where they lived have become piles of rubble.
People they loved are bleeding and crying for help.
For former LDS missionaries who served in Haiti, last week's massive earthquake demolished more than just a place on the map. It crushed a country that, for two years, they called home.
"When you serve a mission, you get to know people, and care about them a lot, in a different way than otherwise," said David Cope, who served in Haiti from 1989 to 1991 and visited again in 1995.
Cope, a general contractor by trade, is desperately trying to find some way down to the country he loves.
"I (would be one) guy in a nation of 9 million," he said. "But I still feel like I want to go ... even if it's to go pick up rocks with my bare hands for as long as I can stay. It's probably not the most effective, but (because of my) ties and feelings, I want to do something more than just send them a check."
Cope has been talking with other missionaries, including Patrick Dillon, who served in Haiti from 2003 to 2005 about organizing rescue efforts, but right now, they're limited to Facebook groups and phone calls.
All full-time missionaries in Haiti right now are native Haitians and all of them are safe, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints confirmed.
"The biggest frustration for me and others is the feeling of helplessness," said Dillon, who's studying civil engineering at BYU. "There's nothing we can do to help, we're just forced to sit on the sidelines and watch as everything unfolds."
After hearing about the quake, Dillon said he sent a mass e-mail to all his Haitians mission contacts, asking if they were OK.
"I really consider a lot of them as deep and close friends," Dillon said. "I almost consider some of them ... family."
He said he's received responses from a few, but his inbox is still uncomfortably bare.
And as hard as it is for Dillon and Cope to hear about friends in danger, it's even worse for Leo Montes, a Haitian who served in his home country from 2000 to 2002 and still has family in Les Cayes.
His brother, sister and mother are alive, but he lost a cousin and a good friend.
"I don't think there's a way to prepare yourself to deal with (something like this)," said Montes, who now lives in Orem. "You pray a lot and always have a prayer in your heart. And friends, we keep in touch, we support each other. This is how you keep going."
The missionaries think back to their time on the island and say the pictures in the news don't fully capture what Haiti is like.
You have to be there to really understand the poverty, they say, and the way the houses perilously cling to the hillsides like concrete barnacles.
"Having lived there, having seen how fragile their infrastructure and their homes were already, just knowing what this could do to them, what it has done to them, is so disheartening," said Todd Hollingshead, who served in Haiti from 2000 to 2002 and now works for University Communications at BYU.
As missionaries, Hollingshead said they stayed in some of the nicer apartments on the island, but there were no guarantees of running water or electricity.
He said he watched children carry buckets of rationed water on their heads up steep hills to their families.
But despite their poverty, Hollingshead said the Haitians are vibrant, God-fearing people.
"They are amazingly optimistic given their dire circumstances," he said. "They have a lot of joy despite the situations they deal with."
It's just that this situation is worse than anything they've ever seen.
"Every time me and my friends talk about it, we start crying," said Georges Aspervil, a Haitian who lost a cousin, an uncle and several friends in the quake.
Aspervil served in Haiti from 2001 to 2003 and now attends Utah Valley University.
"It's hard. ... All the people dying and people who survive everything, they are still there, just waiting for help," Aspervil said. "Some of them are waiting for help that they don't even know where the help is going to come from."
His home city of Jacmel, south of Port-au-Prince, is beyond the scope of the news cameras, he said, but the damage and death is rampant there too.
Aspervil and Montes said they believe the Haitians will recover, but it will take time and a great deal of international help.
And Cope, Dillon and Montes want to be part of that help.
"Anything I can do," Montes said, "I'm willing to do it."
This has been posted to the Religion Forum
From a misisonary who served in Haiti:
“But despite their poverty, Hollingshead said the Haitians are vibrant, God-fearing people.”
Thank you for posting this. Our prayers and support are going out on behalf of the Haitian people.