By Stan Friedman
LUNENBERG, MA (February 3, 2010) – The bus in which Barbara “Bobbie” Curtis was riding was about to pull alongside the 10-foot-high cinder block wall surrounding the guesthouse where she and fellow mission team members were staying after spending a day helping at a Haitian orphanage.
Suddenly the bus started rocking and was knocked to the left side of the road. The vehicle’s tires spun uselessly as if they were stuck in sand, says Curtis.
Then the earthquake brought the cinder block wall crashing down. Had the bus arrived just seconds earlier or not been shoved to the other side of the road, the passengers would have been exiting the vehicle alongside the wall. Many would have been killed or trapped.
Fifteen-year-old Elizabeth Proulx was riding in a second bus with other members of the mission team. Her bus jolted and was knocked sideways so that the wheels on the left side momentarily left the ground. “At first, I thought we had hit something,” she recalls.
Curtis and Proulx were part of a 12-member group from Pilgrim Covenant Church traveling with a Mission E4 team of 40 people that had arrived two days before the earthquake on Tuesday, January 12. Several moments passed before they began to grasp the enormity of the disaster.
The group in Curtis’s bus could see that buildings around them had collapsed. “It was like being punched in the stomach,” Curtis says.
“We wondered where we were supposed to go,” Curtis adds. “Where is safe? We weren’t even sure where to sit or stand. The tremors continued through the night.”
Mission E4 works with national directors Pastor and Madame Bazil Gump to oversee the work in Leogane of three churches, two schools, the orphanage, and a medical clinic that was scheduled to open the week of the earthquake. Nearly 90 percent of Leogane collapsed to the ground, so the team members who returned the day after the earthquake felt a fear different from what they had experienced the day before. “There was a knot in everyone’s stomach,” Curtis says.
They feared what they would find.
Fortunately, the clinic had been built to withstand earthquakes, and the children had survived.
The mission team established a “refugee camp” at the orphanage. Proulx and the four other teenage girls from Pilgrim Covenant played with the children. Some team members attended to the many people who gathered at the property. They assisted alongside a missionary doctor from Cap Haitien who had arrived to help.
Other members of the team helped treat injured Haitians in Carfou, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. “We didn’t take any of the teenagers to do any of the medical work,” says Tom Ireland, the Pilgrim Covenant youth leader on the trip. “They saw enough horrific things.”
The mission team helped reconstruct a temporary wall around the guesthouse. When the teenagers were not playing with the children, they swung sledgehammers to break up the cinder blocks.
Pilgrim Covenant has a history going back several years with the work of Mission E4 in Haiti. The church sponsors 40 kids every month, and the team had brought 200 pounds of gifts to distribute. “They’re our friends, so it’s very personal for us,” says Curtis, who has been to Haiti six times.
The church first became involved with Mission E4 because Scott Long, the brother of Pilgrim Covenant’s former associate pastor Randy Long, had started the organization. Scott was leading the team during the earthquake.
Randy was at a restaurant in Massachusetts having dinner with his father and stepmother when they first heard reports of the quake. “At first my heart jumped, and then I thought that it probably wasn’t that bad,” he says. “Small tremors are not uncommon. Then I thought, ‘Scott can handle this.’ ”
Then the reports of the devastation began to appear on the TV screens.
Randy had recently resigned after 15 years of serving at Pilgrim so he could work with Mission E4 in Mozambique. He was living at the organization’s home base in Hubbardston, Massachusetts, as he prepared to travel overseas. He returned there from the restaurant to await word about the fate of the team and the people of Leogane. Several tense hours later that night, he received a call that the team was safe. He and his wife spent the next two hours calling family members of the team to spread the news.
The team continued to work in Haiti while Mission E4 tried to figure out how to get them home. On Saturday, the day they were originally scheduled to return, they were able to board a plane that had been loaned to Missionary Flights International by NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick.
“It was very, very hard to leave,” Curtis says, adding, “It’s been very emotional.” A Missions E4 team already is scheduled to return to Haiti this week.
Proulx, who first traveled to Haiti when she was 13, says the experience has not diminished her desire to work in Haiti. “If I can, I’d love to go back this summer.”
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