MISSION TO HAITI: Local group to travel to stricken nation

COLUMBIA CITY — Whitley County has strong ties to Haiti as the local community continues to raise funds and serve on mission trips.Amber Walker, of Columbia City, will soon be traveling to Haiti and taking with her more than 75 beaded bracelets, made by Lois Smith of Renaissance Village, for the Haitian children, and in February, a group of members of the Columbia City United Methodist Church (CCUMC) took a trip to Haiti to build new houses with the program “Homes for Haitians.” Another group from CCUMC church will travel to Haiti in early May.David and Sharon Zettle, Laura Gater and Doug Ahlfeld traveled in February to Haiti and joined a team of five from Traverse City, Mich., to build homes in the town of Mellier, which was the epicenter of the earthquake Haiti suffered in January 2010.For Gater, it was her first visit to Haiti.“As the plane circled over the sparkling blue Caribbean sea, I craned my neck to see my first glimpse of a Third World country,” said Gater.“There it was, a beautiful sandy coastline, full of tents and shacks, side by side for almost as far as I could see.”Gater went to write stories and photograph the events of the trip. She also took video.“I had never been to a place where people didn’t speak English,” said Gater.Homes for Haitians is an organization run by Ahlfeld. The plan was to build five small homes in a week with help from the Michigan residents.Gater explained how the people of Haiti get a free house.“Pastor Jacob Presume oversees nine Methodist churches in Mellier and Bainet,” said Gater. “For the Haitians to get a free house they must be respected members of the Methodist Church in Haiti first. They must have lost their home from the earthquake and they must own property and have the title.”Even though the earthquake was 15 months ago, according to Gater, it still looks like it just happened.“We are doing so much more than building houses for the people of Haiti,” said Gater. “It’s a long-term commitment to develop a supply of jobs with material distribution and most of all it sparks a growing spiritual relationship between the people of Haiti and the United Methodist Church.”The CCUMC received a $100,000 grant two years ago but funds are quickly running out.Gater and Ahlfeld agree that their mission in Haiti is important. “They need help with their basic needs. We have taught them how to build homes. It’s like that saying ‘Teach a man to fish and he’ll know how to fish forever.’ That’s what we’ve done,” she said.“I went there trying to seek God in Haiti,” said Gater. “I didn’t see him in Port-au-Prince in the tent cities, rubble or trash. But I did see God as I watched the Haitian men’s faces who were eager to have a job and support their families. He was there as the local women fixed our lunches and in the eyes who were checking on our progress. Yes, God is in Haiti and I’m so glad that I went.”