National Lutheran News

Haiti Mission Project has impact, helps others to do likewise

Grassroot one-to-one relationships can change a country

Last January the world was exposed to the great need in the country of Haiti after the devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake. Prior to the quake, most of the world did not know about the needs of this small Third World country. But volunteers of the Haiti Mission Project, a Twin Cities-based, grassroots nonprofit, have been educating people about the needs in Haiti for more than five years.

The Haiti Mission Project is committed to share God’s love and hope with the Haitian people. Through its mission work, its goal has been to create awareness that will make a difference. The project started with a group of mostly 20- and 30-somethings dedicated to traveling to Haiti in mission and returning to tell the story of the Haitian people.

Andy Jolivette and Joanne Thiele read a book with Rosie, the daughter of the woman who runs the guesthouse and orphanage connected with Haiti Mission Project. Photo provided by Andy Jolivette

In 2008 this small group of dedicated volunteers established itself as a nonprofit organization. While volunteers did not set out to become such, “we couldn’t not do it,” said Andy Jolivette, who serves on the organization’s board. He has traveled to Haiti four times since 2006.

After the January 12 earthquake hit, the world suddenly was dedicated to Haitian relief efforts, and the stakes for the Haiti Mission Project were immediately raised. Overnight people worldwide learned of the overwhelming need of this small island nation — and wanted to help. The Haiti Mission Project needed to, and was fortunately poised to, make a difference for the people of Haiti in a significantly larger way.

In a position to make a difference

When the earthquake hit, thousands of people had already had an experience with the Haiti Mission Project through listening to the stories of its volunteers. In response to the need for mission support, two kinds of people come forward. Jolivette calls groups like these, prepared to provide mission support, the “goers” and the “senders” respectively.

Prior to the earthquake, the Haiti Mission Project had sent out between 10 and 20 “goers” once or twice a year. Following the disaster, they established a relationship with thousands of “senders,” those who provided support through gifts of money, prayers, and encouragement.

Now, in the months following the Haitian earthquake, many congregations and other groups feel called to mission in Haiti.

Already aware of the need in Haiti, “people were stumbling over themselves to help,” Jolivette said.

Joanna Thiele, also a board member with the Haiti Mission Project, says she couldn’t have made any of her nine trips to Haiti without the support of the many senders.

“I couldn’t do it without them for sure,” she said. “It’s nice that I can give something back to them through my words and ministry.”

One person at a time

Now, in the months following the Haitian earthquake, many congregations and other groups feel called to mission in Haiti. Due to its experience, the Haiti Mission Project has come forward to offer support in their efforts to sustain Haiti.

So, what might those wishing to do mission in Haiti expect?

On his baptism day, Evan is held by his godmother Joanna Thiele, who is between his parents Patrick and Natacha. Godfather Andy Jolivette is on the right. (“It is our practice sharing stories of our Haitian friends that we do not use their last names,” explained Jolivette.)

While the work to be done in Haiti is vast, members of the Haiti Mission Project focus their work on one small piece at a time — and help others to do the same.

“When you first go to a place, you see with a wide angle lens,” Jolivette said. “Everything is compiled in a list of observations and perspectives.” Jolivette’s initial observations of Haiti (during his first trip in 2006) included: hot, poor, dirty, disease, children, a mess.

“But within the first few days, you realize it’s a beautiful mess; a place of people of hope, faith, and perseverance.”

While the work to be done in Haiti is vast, members of the Haiti Mission Project focus their work on one small piece at a time — and help others to do the same.

“It is only when you focus on one person, one orphanage where you can make a difference,” Jolivette said.

In this vein, the Haiti Mission Project, along with another Haitian mission group, recently bought a piece of land next to an orphanage the group has served. On this land they have planted banana trees and are setting up chicken coops to help the people raise food.

Thiele compares the work to the story of man returning the starfish to the sea: “Our working is helping one person at a time.”

Jolivette and Thiele have both found spiritual renewal from their mission in Haiti. “It’s cliché to say I went to help them, but they helped me more,” Jolivette said. “But that truly happens.”

The Haiti Mission Project will hold its fifth annual Walk for Haiti on September 19 at 4:00 p.m. at Normandale Lake in Bloomington, Minnesota. Those interested in joining the walk, or otherwise supporting the Haiti Mission Project, can do so by visiting its Web site www.haitimissionproject.org. Registrations will also be taken the day of the walk.

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