By Gery L. Deer
The Jamestown Comet.Com
“Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, ‘Whom shall I send and who will go for us?’ Then said I, ‘Here am I; send me.’” – Isaiah 6:8
DAYTON, OH – APRIL 25, 2010 – With a death toll estimated near 230,000, the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that hit the Caribbean nation of Haiti on January 12th is one of the worst natural disasters in history. Four months later, even in the capital city of Port-au-Prince, thousands are still homeless, without electricity, medical care or clean water.
Unfortunately, the hardship that yet grips the Haitian people has largely lost the interest of the media and publicity seekers. Politicians walk the safer areas of the capital, shaking the hands of a people who neither know who they are nor care. All the people of Haiti want is relief from the death and destruction that surrounds them in what was already a nation struggling to survive.
Most of the recovery work is being done by the Haitian people but church organizations from all over America have been sending missions to the beleaguered country to help out wherever possible. Mission to North America (MNA) is one outreach organization that is currently sending disaster response teams to Haiti.
Working through the MNA program, a joint interfaith effort is now underway to mobilize mission teams from Dayton and the surrounding areas. The project is being spearheaded by organizers at South Dayton Presbyterian Church located in Centerville, Ohio.
Marty Walling of Riverside, Ohio, had long considered missionary work as something he wanted to do after retirement. Following a discussion with friend and associate Bryan Erdmann, who had already traveled to Haiti for mission work, Walling made the decision not to wait until retirement, but instead to put his skills to work for the quake victims right away.
“I wanted to go and help out and make a difference,” Walling said. The next available slot was during Holy Week, the week prior to Easter, and he struggled with the question of leaving his family during such an important holiday time. Faith guided his decision, however and he left for Haiti on March 27th. “I thought it would be a great time to walk with the Lord,” he said. “He spoke to me, and I answered.”
A lifelong resident of the Miami Valley, Walling started his professional career on the factory floors of General Motors. After multiple layoffs, he moved over to the building trades in 1982 when he went to work with a local contracting firm. Since then, has used his skills as a volunteer with Catch the Building Spirit, a collaborative between Dayton area Catholics and Presbyterians to build housing for low income families through Habitat for Humanity.
Accustomed to volunteer work, Walling had no way of knowing how much worse the situation in Haiti would actually be than anything he had ever before seen – and how it would affect him. “I wasn’t prepared for what I saw, I mean complete devastation,” Walling said. “It was enough to bring anybody to tears, as it well did me. You hear about it and you see the pictures but until you get there it just doesn’t hit home.”
On the 35 mile trip from the air port at Port-au-Prince to the Oasis Compound in the town of Carrefour, one of the nurses on the medical team asked Walling if he could smell the horrific stench that lingered in the stifling hot air. “I said yes,” he remarked, “and she said that it was the smell of bodies still decomposing.”
“There are still as many bodies buried in the rubble as have been recovered and buried in the mass graves,” Walling said. “All of that cleanup effort is still a long time off.” Unsanitary conditions and a lack of fresh drinking water are taking a toll on the overall health of the Haitian people, particularly outside the area of the capital city.
“Malaria is rampant there as is dehydration,” noted Walling, who was at one point during the trip overtaken himself by the effects of working in 97 degree heat and 90 percent humidity. “There is no readily-available drinking water so you have to use bottled water. The farther away you get from Port-au-Prince the less of it there is.”
The goal of the mission teams is to ready the Oasis Compound as a base of operations for future workers. Walling explained, “Their idea is to start with the churches, that will give them a sense of community, then start working on housing.”
The compound consists of a 2-story, 7,000 square foot building sitting on approximately one acre of land completely walled in for security, with Haitian nationals working as guards. The second floor of the compound will be used to house the mission residents who go out to work on a daily basis.
The lower level will be used for supply storage, and will feature a kitchen and, eventually, a medical office. Medical teams already work throughout the area, but the hope is that local residents will one day have a central location where they can come for health care.
Working conditions on the compound were scarcely better than in most of the rest of the country. Building materials were of low quality and difficult to come by, most of which were shipped out of Miami, Florida by request of the mission organizers back home.
There was no electricity being supplied by the government or by a power company. The only electrical power came from generators which ran from 8 to 10 hours a day, limited largely by the available fuel supply.
According to Walling, there was little in the way of visible help from outside Haiti and virtually no sign of the billions of dollars promised by the United States. “We saw two pieces of UN equipment, backhoes working; that was close to the epicenter of the quake,” he said. “Most of the relief efforts seemed to come from missions. It’s going to be a long, difficult journey back for them and they will continue to need our help.”
In Walling’s opinion, the best way to help out, if volunteering is not an option, is to donate to local mission organizations. “With the missions you know where your money is going,” He said. “Everything is funded strictly by donations and those going down pay their own way or raise the money to pay for the travel and the costs of their food while they are there.”
Despite the difficult conditions and overwhelming emotional strain of the situation, Walling found a spiritual and emotional bond with the people of Carrefour. “The goal is to help them learn how to do these things on their own because when we’re gone, they will have to keep doing the work,” Walling said. He returned home on April 3rd, but he is eager to return and continue to help however he can.
“I would love to go back,” he said, and noted the strength and resolve of the Haitian people. “I feel like I have an extended Haitian family there. These people are good, hard-working people who are looking for help – not a handout.”
Without being thoroughly immersed in the situation, it would be impossible to fully understand the struggle of those living in such adverse conditions. But Marty Walling and dozens more like him are doing what they can to help the proud people of Haiti climb out of the rubble and rebuild their lives. Faith and hard work will beget a great resurrection; the rebirth of a people and of a nation.
Further missions to Haiti are being scheduled through the Missions to North America programs. To learn more about how you can get involved in missions to Haiti organized through the South Dayton Presbyterian Church, contact David Short at (937) 823-0809 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.