Area resident finds mission trip ‘life-changing’

Published 5:45 pm Saturday, May 22, 2010

A team from the Church of Christ in Minnesota traveled to the Dominican Republic this winter to help Haitian refugees. But in the end, it was the team that was helped.

At least that’s the way Holly Mortenson of rural New Richland saw the trip, which took place Feb. 23 to March 2.

She was part of a team that included the Rev. Mike Gerhardt of Albert Lea’s Church of Christ, his daughter, Melody Schott and her husband, Marty, the Rev. Billy Wallace and Dan and Jonette Schue from the Dassel Church of Christ and Benjamin Robert, the group’s Haitian interpreter.

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The group stayed with the Rev. Jean Paulite and his family: wife Julie, son Jose, daughters Ester and Debora and several extended family members as well.

“Some of our goals were to work on Jean’s mission house, completing some much-needed repairs, making visits to area church members who were ill or had fallen away from the church,” Mortenson said. “We spent time encouraging and praying with them.”

On the first night at Paulite’s house, the group met Rueben, who Mortenson thought was a Haitian relative of Paulite. “To my amazement, I found out he was the dean of a New York City college. I found out Rueben was going to Haiti the next morning to help, and I shared with him that my daughter Sadie’s class had made valentine cards for the earthquake victims. I asked if he would give them to the families and Pastor Mike gave him $2 for each card as well. He was excited to hand them out,” she said.

On the last night at Paulite’s home, Rueben returned to tell the group how much these cards meant to these families. He said he only wished there would have been more to hand out.

“I cried,” Mortenson recalled.

The group traveled to all the churches that Paulite works with in Jan Gomez, Plantanal, Padre Las Casas, Cien Fuego, Hatillo Palmo, Don Padro, Amistad and Los Tres Cruces, where they held minister-leadership meetings and worship services.

“We had requests for money to make much-needed repairs on many of these churches,” Mortenson said.

In the evenings, the group would return to Paulite’s home and they would have an evening devotion and prayer time.

Mortenson took her laptop computer along so group members could stay in touch with family and friends. Each evening, she would try to upload the day’s pictures to her Facebook page along with commentary, so the people who made donations to the mission trip or who were praying for them could see what they were doing with the donations, where they had been and the Haitians with whom they were working.

“I wanted people to feel like they were a part of this and for them to see the Haitian people that their prayers and donations were helping. It makes it more personal, I think,” she said.

The team slept in the upper level of Paulite’s mission house. “We were just happy to have somewhere safe to rest our heads,” Mortenson said, adding each night, Paulite’s nephew or one of the men from the mission team would keep watch over the house. “The Dominican is a very unsafe place for Haitian people,” she said. “They are like outcasts there. They are unwanted and hated.”

One of Mortenson’s goals was to take along coloring pages and purchase colored pencils for the children they would be working with in Armistad. Nancy’s Candy Store in Waseca donated the coloring sheets and she bought the colored pencils with some of the donations she’d been given.

Melody Schott read the story, “You Are Special,” by Max Lucado, in Spanish. Then the team members had them color heart coloring sheets as Melody explained that God loves them.

“As we collected the sheets we saw one little Haitian boy wrote, ‘Loves Me God,’ on his,” Mortenson said. “We were both touched as we knew that they understood the message we had to share with them.”

Mortenson said what impressed her most about the Haitian people are how strong they are.

“They don’t realize how bad off they are or what they don’t have. They are just grateful for the very little they do have. Even though they are so very impoverished and terribly oppressed, you can look in their eyes and you see hope, love and compassion.

“They have such a need for human contact, kindness and compassion. They have an amazing love for the Lord and feel so happy and honored to be able to worship and serve their God. They are truly an amazing people. … We went down there to help them, but in the end, but in the end it was us they helped.”

To sum up her trip in a few words, Mortenson said it was “amazing, heartbreaking, heartwarming, joyful, sad, emotional, spiritual, humbling, but most of all, life-changing.”

“I can’t wait to go back. There is so much more to do as the need is so incredibly great down there,” Mortenson said.

Donations are still being taken for Haitian Ministries, care of Albert Lea Church of Christ, 1705 SE Marshall St., Albert Lea. Donations may also be dropped off at any Wells Federal Bank locations. Please specify it is for the HOAP account.