Church: Advent UMC
District: River Valley
Submitted by: Jennifer Chick
Mission trips usually involve physical labor on some type of community project —but they also provide an opportunity for evangelism, and members of Advent United Methodist Church’s Volunteers in Mission team have seized that opportunity.
Advent members Jerry and Joni Fenner, who have been organizing Haiti mission trips for the church since 2001, first went to Haiti in 1999. After seeing great need there, they felt led to invite their church family to help.
Advent teams have been to a variety of communities in Haiti, including Cap-Haïtien, Les Cayes, Montrouis, Petit-Goâve, Port-au-Prince, and Arcahaie.
“My motivation for returning again and again is fairly simple —the people we encounter, meet, and work with,” Joni said. “We have had overwhelmingly positive experiences with the Haitian people. Whether passing on the street, meeting them at an event, or working alongside them, all seem to appreciate our involvement and support.”
Jerry says the teams evangelize through words rather than actions—by demonstrating radical hospitality and living out values that the individual team members and the church strive to embody. He points out that the mission trips aren’t about doing work for the Haitians; their most important function is bringing encouragement to the Haitians.
“We want to go down and set a spark so hopefully they will become engaged,” he said. “To provide a spark for the people there is all because of the generosity of this congregation.”
This year, Advent’s team was in Haiti from Oct. 26 to Nov. 2. During that time, the team moved rock, which will serve as the foundation of a new Methodist school in the small village of Bois Neuf Malor. Jerry and Advent work with a pastor in Jeremie who has become the go-between for the mission teams and their work projects. The pastor works to ensure that the community is as focused on the work projects as the teams that come down for a week at a time to help them move forward.
“We’re trying to build community,” Jerry said. “We’re trying to interact. We try to be part of their everyday life.”
This year, Advent contributed $5,000 for building project expenses while the team was in Haiti. Another $5,000 was sent after the team came back and will be used to hire workers to build the foundation.
Two other mission teams from Michigan will also travel to Haiti to work on the school, which is expected to cost about $40,000 to build. The hope is that the school will be finished by June. If not, Advent will go back next fall to finish and dedicate it. When all is said and done, the children will have a 100-foot by 50-foot school building with seven classrooms.
The children’s current school is a concrete building set very close to the road at Bois Neuf Malor, which, in Creole, means “bend in the road.” The village is little more than that—a school and a church building set at the bend of the road. Children walk from the forested hillsides surrounding the school.
“Often times in Haiti, parents have to choose which kids get to go to school,” Jerry said.
Because the current school building was in bad shape, the children, all 125 of them, have been meeting inside the church in one large room.
Most of the work done by the Advent mission team of Mary Doran, Jim Hildebrand, Rory Swenson, Ann Girres, Brad Briggs, Mark Schaenzer, and Jerry and Joni Fenner was to set up a bucket line to move rock from the surrounding area and pile it for use in the foundation. Jerry says he likes using a bucket line because it is a way to bring the locals into the work. Often, the team had to hustle to keep up with three grandmas who showed up at the work site every day to move rock, rarely stopping to rest.
“They wanted to be part of the school that was being built for their kids,” Jerry said.
On the last work day, school was cancelled.
“The kids all came and helped move rock so they would have a stake in it,” Jerry said. One teenage girl moved rock while chatting away on her cell phone.
Haiti is a country with many troubles: poverty, lack of food, not enough opportunity, political upheaval—the list goes on. But the Fenners, with help from Advent UMC, are evangelizing through action, bringing God’s love to the people there one work project at a time.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church