Spiritual Journey: St. Jean Baptiste Feast Day Mission
Wow! What an amazing experience seeing God’s hand at work and to be able to experience it with fellow St. Philippians ... well, let’s just say it is something that both my son, Clay Hershey, and I will never forget! From the fellowship amongst all of us seven St. Philippians who went on the trip to seeing the fruit of the many years of relationship-building that Gerry and Suzanne have cultivated over the years, it was truly a remarkable experience!
Miles Barkley, Gerry and Suzanne McCord, Sam and Carol Robinson, and Clay and I left Charleston on June 19 despite the riots occurring in Haiti. From the moment we landed in Haiti, my son and I knew that we were out of our comfort zone, but it was extremely comforting to know that all the St. Philippians with whom we were traveling had done this trip numerous times before. Due to the civil unrest, we took a small plane from Port au Prince to La Gonâve instead of staying on the mainland for a night as they’d done in years past. At the beach airport, we were welcomed by small children who were happy to help us with our bags and to play a children’s hand game, Double Double, which I knew from my daughter. I quickly realized the difficulty in communicating with people when faced with a language barrier. However, I also quickly realized that all it takes is a smile and a “Bonjour” to let these children know we had arrived in Haiti with good intentions.
Claude, whom Suzanne and Gerry have known since he was a young boy, picked us up and took us to the Episcopal Church Compound, our home for the week. We observed throughout the trip that Claude is truly committed to sharing the body of Christ and devoted to helping his fellow Haitians. We settled into our rooms by lighting our Citronella candles, putting on the first of many applications of bug lotion/spray, and hanging our mosquito nets above our beds and around our doorways. I quickly learned why we were instructed to bring duct tape. We duct-taped the camping nets around our doorways, and I would duct tape my son and myself into our rooms each night to keep the mosquitoes out.
At dinner, we were joined by both of the ministers of La Gonâve Partners as well as two employees from Water Mission. Père (“Father”) Ricot and Père Val are responsible for overseeing churches and schools for more than 10 communities on the island of La Gonâve, helping to create community centers focused on spreading the Gospel. One of these communities is St. Jean Baptiste, St. Philip’s sister church, located on a remote mountain in Plaine Mapou. This church is not only a place to worship God but also a school, medical center, playground, and community center; St. Philip’s is its sole financial supporter. The two employees from Water Mission were there to take measurements to begin a project to provide clean water for the children and parishioners of St. Jean Baptiste. The project should start this month and be finished before school starts back. Clean water will have a significant impact on our sister church.
We were part of the medical clinic at St. Jean the Baptiste, which was a remarkable experience. We handed out all the dental supplies and eyeglasses donated by St. Philippians to the school children and older parishioners. The children were so grateful and proud once they were given a bag that contained a toothbrush, toothpaste, and dental floss, and the older parishioners who received the eyeglasses were so grateful for the gift of eyesight. It is hard to imagine that these medical supplies would be the only dental supplies they would have for the entire year, until St. Philip’s sends another mission group next June. The supplies that we handed out may last a child one month or less. This was a tremendous reminder that if St. Philip’s did not provide the financial resources it does, then there would be many people with no church or minister to worship God, nor educate and feed their children, nor have medical supplies or a community meeting place to provide fellowship amongst one another. St. Philip’s is building up the body of Christ through its mission work at Plaine Mapou, a community filled with happy, grateful people who embody the spirit of Christ. This continued relationship has allowed our partnership to be more active and double-sided than other sister church partnerships on the island.
We travelled the two-and-a-half-hour ride up to Plaine Mapou again for Feast Day on Sunday, June 23. Feast Day is a church service when all the baptisms and marriages happen for the entire year. We St. Philippians attend each year to demonstrate the love and support we have for our sister church. There were six baptisms this year. During the baptism ceremony, the congregation is asked to be a witness and to support these persons being baptized. This question has always struck me during the baptism ceremonies I have attended; however, I made sure I answered this question with an affirmative, “We will!” Those children being baptized that day will always hold a special place in my heart as I am now a part of their spiritual journey.
I am grateful God led me to make this journey with Miles, Gerry, Suzanne, Sam, Carol, and my son. It was an amazing experience and to experience it with my son is truly unforgettable! I would encourage anyone looking to make a lasting memory to make this trip to La Gonâve to celebrate Feast Day with our sister church, St. Jean Baptiste. It was the trip of a lifetime, and I am hopeful to make the journey again in the future with my other two children!