by Taylor Bryant
When three UWG Health Services employees went to Haiti for a summer missions trip, they found that the devastation of the January 12, 2010, earthquake remains vivid for those living there. The earthquake, which killed an estimated 316,000 people, left Haiti one of the poorest countries in the world. From mothers looking for someone to take their children to bodies disfigured from being buried under many pounds of rubble, signs of the tragedy were everywhere.
When the UWG employees embarked on their journey, they were prepared to provide medical assistance and service to hundreds of children and adults. To their surprise, they received more than they could ever give. The trio traveled with a team comprised of university students from across Georgia.
For UWG Health Services nurse Denise Parham, going on a missions trip was an “answered prayer.” Denise had sponsored a little girl in Haiti for many years, but they had lost touch when the agency closed.
“This was my very first mission trip,” says Denise, who tracked much of her experience in a journal. “Being in Haiti was like taking a step back in time into the ‘30s and ‘40s. The town was very bare,” she reads from her journal. “The children there are even different. Children in the United States expect and always want more, but these children are satisfied with things we often take for granted.”
Even through the despair, Denise says Haiti was the most beautiful place she’s ever seen. Nurse Rebecca Riofrio agrees, saying she saw more beauty after the earthquake. Rebecca’s experience, however, was very different from Denise’s. This was her third trip to Haiti, and she had a different focus this time. “I wanted to save a soul that was lost and to communicate with someone that did not know Christ,” Rebecca says. “If I could save one out of 1,000, it was well worth the trip.”
The medical personnel lived in a community that was demolished by the 2010 earthquake, except for the house they resided in during the trip. “One house stood there in the whole community and did not crumble,” recalls Rebecca. “I believe that house was the solid rock of Christ.”
Reflecting on the trip, Rebecca says each day brought on extreme fatigue. “There were times when I was exhausted and felt like giving up, but that was when God stepped in and gave me the energy that I needed to push forward.”
Rebecca was most impressed with the resilience of the children. “I found myself throwing bottles of water out of the bus window for the children to have instead of them drinking water out of the drain,” she recalls. “These kids, who were used to drinking out of the water they bathed in, finally had some fresh water.”
In just four days, the team managed to treat over 500 patients. Out of those patients there were some high acuities necessitating the need for hospital management. Jim recalls serving children with medical problems that range from a cleft palate to cerebral palsy.
It was also the children that seem to make an everlasting impression on Denise. “My prayer is to be able to go back and help more children,” she adds. “Those children had my heart.”
Like Denise, Rebecca agrees that this job was definitely cut out for those with big hearts. “If you didn’t have the medicine or what they needed, you could provide love, so they could see the light and love of Christ through you. I met one lady who wanted to pray with me, and when we prayed, she prayed for a house and when I asked her why, she said, ‘So I could have a house to pray in.’”
And although months have passed since their visit, each seems to share the story as if it were yesterday. “Haiti gave me hope, because there are always concerns about what the youth of the future will be like,” Jim explains. “On this trip, we got exposed to young people with the ability and maturity to serve outside of their comfort zone to serve others. We truly learned to work together for a common goal. In the end, we served as mentors for those 12 university students, but I also learned from them.”
“The impact from a medical standpoint was staggering,” he continues. “I greatly appreciate the opportunity that was provided by the Georgia Baptist Convention and Baptist Collegiate Ministries to serve the un-served while mentoring our future leaders both professionally and spiritually.”