North Alabama Conference UMVIM team first volunteer team to serve in Haiti since earthquake


In January a devastating earthquake struck Haiti. Since that time North Alabama United Methodists reached out to the Haitian people with God’s love through monetary gifts to UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief), collection of health kits and other relief supplies and prayers. In early May, the North Alabama Conference continued to reach out as North Alabama sent one of the first Volunteers in MIssion (UMVIM) teams to the country since the earthquake struck.

As with any disaster, Haiti is in the midst of a long process of recovery.  At this time the situation has finally progressed to the point that volunteer teams can enter the country to assist the process of recovery and rebuilding. On May 3-8, 2010, the first UMVIM teams from the United Methodist Church – one from the North Alabama Conference, the other from Kansas - traveled to and served in Haiti.

Conference Director of Mission and Advocacy Rev. Matt Lacey led the North Alabama team.

The team traveled to the country and stayed at the Methodist Guest House in PAP, more specifically Petionville. The project they focused on was the Methodist Boys Home. They tore down damaged walls and replaced them with stronger material. Rev. Lacey adds that in addition to their work they played with a lot of Haitian children.

Recently in his Mission Blog on the North Alabama Conference website Matt reflects.

I first visited Haiti a little over a year ago (albeit for a short time and outside of Port au Prince). One can sense that the country has greatly changed.

The earthquake is something that will now be ever-present in the lives of the survivors. A new marker on time and history. Conversations are frequently divided into "before the quake" and "after the quake." However, the people are resilient, and I was blessed to lead a great VIM team, the first (alongside another team from Kansas) composed of entirely volunteers since the quake struck. Our team experienced the people of Haiti at perhaps their most vulnerable, but you wouldn't have been able to tell it.

People frequently asked the team, "What are you doing in Haiti?" Though I told them our actual agenda, I wanted to reply in the spirit of one of my colleagues in the Virginia Conference, "We are looking for signs of the Resurrection."

Rachel Estes, Director of Outreach at Canterbury UMC in Birmingham, was one of the team members. She shares that the North Alabama team was able to process their experience during times of team devotion and reflection. They discussed working alongside the Haitian people and how the hard work and servanthood of the people they met touched them.

During our team reflection, we talked about how hard the Haitian people were working alongside of us.

UMCOR has required that for every American volunteer, 2 Haitians must be hired which is both an incredibly culturally rich experience and a great way to stimulate the economy.

We discussed that one gentleman in particular never joined our bucket line...passing 5 gallon buckets of either concrete chunks during deconstruction or 5 gallon buckets of wet cement during the construction. Musing on this we wondered if he disapproved of our bucket line, we wondered if he were just not a joiner...until one team member said, "wait, are you talking about the guy in the orange shorts?" We confirmed it was. "Well, did you guys see what was in the buckets that he carried? They were packed to the very top with the biggest chunks and the biggest amounts of cement. He knew we wouldn't have been able to carry them, so he did it himself."

For me, this was an incredible example of servanthood...serving us who'd come to serve him. The people of Haiti are proud. They are strong. They are welcoming. And they want us to work ALONGSIDE of them as they attempt to rebuild their country.

Rachel also notes that the team was able to interact with many children. Team members and Haitian children played games, sang songs and laughed together. The team found the children to be open, welcoming and hardworking. However, she also says the devastation and poverty of Haiti were present in a way that the team was never fully able to know how many unmet needs – food, education, security – some of the children faced day to day.

She adds “I ask that you please remember the children of Haiti in your prayers. Remember them as incredibly bright, incredibly industrious and incredibly ready to rise up...if given the opportunity.”

Click here to see a picture gallery of photos from the team’s time in Haiti.

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