Karen Reynolds
Contributing Writer

The story of a recent mission trip to Haiti brings the tragic lives of people living there home to the United States and closer yet to Ripley County.

Michelle Russell of Moores Hill shared her story with at the Church of Christ at Milan with those listening knowing they have much to be thankful for this Christmas season.

Russell visited Haiti in October with an organization called International Disaster Emergency Services (IDES) and saw firsthand the continuing devastation Haiti is facing.

Those attending saw a video that detailed conditions in Haiti - conditions that still exist from an earthquake the country suffered in January 2010, nearly a year ago. Russell shared that “it looks like a war zone.” She said there was garbage everywhere, places where houses look like cardboard boxes because they are cardboard boxes, and piles of rubble everywhere that used to be actual homes. Nearly every area in Haiti is damaged in some way, according to Russell.

Russell’s first shock was the sights and sounds of a country in ruins. Her second shock was the way in which items that go through customs are taken by government personnel on a whim. Her third shock came after she boarded a bus that had absolutely no shocks, no air conditioning, windows that wouldn’t go down, and a driver who thought he was a NASCAR driver. She said taxis are just as dangerous and are often called “tap-taps”. You tap on the top of the vehicle to let the driver know you need a ride. A taxi can be just a pickup truck. Motorcycle taxis often have three or four people on them and a crazy driver. Traffic rules do not seem to apply to anyone in Haiti.

Other impressions of life in Haiti were made on Russell. One of the most enjoyable was meeting and working with Etienne and Betty Prophete, who began the Haiti Christian Mission in 1974. They have an outpatient clinic, a church, classrooms, and dorm rooms. The orphanage started there in June 2010 with six or seven children. While Russell was there, she assisted with a birthday party for the children. Since most of the children have no idea when their birthday is, they just have one party for everyone. They shared a cake, some balloons, and face painting.

According to Russell, Haitian people speak Creole, but she quickly learned that God hears our prayers in whatever language we pray. While Russell and her group were there, they helped build homes. This is literally back-breaking work as they have very little modern equipment to work with so houses tend to be rebuilt one stone at a time.

It is estimated that 1.3 million people live in tent cities at this time in Haiti. The water supply is very bad. And, bad water, dirty living conditions, and sewage in the streets, is a bad combination that has led to a serious cholera epidemic. Approximately 2,000 people have died from cholera, thousands more are sick every day. Without antibiotics, a person can die from cholera within 24 hours of contracting it. And, sadly, it is preventable. Immediate medical treatment means people can recover. But, medical treatment in Haiti is sporadic and very ineffective. Hospitals were either destroyed by the earthquake or are already overflowing.

The International Disaster Emergency Services is seeing lots of orphaned children. They too have bad water and three of the orphans contracted cholera while at the orphanage where Russell worked. Thanks to quick thinking and antibiotics, those children will recover.

An ongoing project at the mission is a water purification system. Russell hopes to work on this project and help make it a reality.

Even though people are dying in Haiti by droves, they have not lost hope. They believe God will provide for them, even when they have no idea where the next meal will come from. They lined up at the mission clinic while Russell was there, with their babies hoping one of the mission team members would pray for their babies.

Russell says, “Yes, I will be going back. The people need to know about Jesus.” She says she will do her part by helping to bring relief and being the hands and feet of God. She left the audience with a Creole word, “Merci”.

Mercy certainly is needed in Haiti. Russell invites anyone interested in giving to the mission work to do so. You can send donations to the Church of Christ at Milan, 631 E. Carr Street, PO Box 676, Milan, IN 47031 or IDES, PO Box 60, Kempton, IN, 46049. Monies will be used for the water purification system at the orphanage in Mirabalais and for repairs to the orphanage due to the earthquake.

Russell shared that she was thankful for those who helped her raise the money she needed for traveling and living expenses while in Haiti. She expressed gratitude to the Church of Christ at Milan; the Department of Child Services in Ripley County, and the Hair Decisions Salon in Milan.

She told The Versailles Republican a spring trip to Haiti is being planned through the IDES with plans to focus on the orphanage and deaf school there.

Pictured above, Michelle Russell poses with some of the orphans from an orphanage in Haiti where she recently traveled. Pictured below are some of the deplorable conditions Haitians are living in since the earthquake in January of 2010. They are in desperate need of clean water and medical supplies.