Unrest in Haiti prompts volunteers' return to U.S.

Baptist Press
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Posted: Dec 14, 2010 5:00 PM
Unrest in Haiti prompts volunteers' return to U.S.
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (BP)--After facing three days of escalating civil unrest in Haiti along with the continuing outbreak of cholera, Florida and Southern Baptist disaster relief volunteers suspended their work and returned to the United States Dec. 10.

Eddie Blackmon, rebuild coordinator for Florida and Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, and other volunteers were holed up at the Florida Mission House for three days after rioting began Dec. 7. Florida Baptists have had personnel stationed in Haiti since the Jan. 12 earthquake.

In addition to a four-member Baptist Haiti rebuild team, a team of volunteers from First Baptist Church in Covington, La., were holed up at the mission house during the unrest.

The unrest in Port-au-Prince began with the announced results of the presidential election, requiring a runoff between two candidates.

By Sunday, all teams had safely arrived back in Miami. The rebuild team plans to return in January.

The teams were forced to leave Haiti by way of the Dominican Republic because the international Port-au-Prince airport was closed. Blackmon's flight had been cancelled two days in a row.

The handful of volunteers from Covington, La, left Port au-Prince via automobile through the Dominican Republic on Dec. 10. The team included a news crew from New Orleans NBC television station WDSU, who spent some of their time in Haiti documenting the demonstration and rioting.

The remaining rebuild team of volunteers including Blackmon originally was scheduled to leave Haiti during the week of Dec. 13 for the Christmas holidays. But the ongoing violence forced them to hasten their plans.

After the Covington group left Dec. 10, the four remaining volunteers made plans to fly out of Port-au-Prince on a domestic airplane to Santa Domingo and then on to the U.S. on Sunday.

Stephanie Shermeta, a volunteer from Calvary Baptist Church in Clearwater, Fla., who is serving for a year as a case worker with the Haiti rebuild, recounted the tensions.

"After the results were released, mass rioting began with a high concentration in Petionville where the election results were released. Throughout the night shots were fired," she said.

Venturing out of the Florida Mission House compound on Wednesday, Shermeta estimated that 15,000 people could be seen rioting and demonstrating. Tires were burning on every street while gunfire continued throughout the night.

Meanwhile, with more than 2,000 confirmed deaths and as many as 100,000 cases of cholera, Florida Baptist officials have sent another $30,000 to Haiti to purchase bottled water and water purification supplies to help stop the spread of the disease.

Cholera is caused by drinking polluted water containing the vibrio cholerac bacteria, which can result in diarrhea and vomiting. The resulting dehydration can lead to death.

The Florida funds also will be used to underwrite pamphlets to continue to educate Haitians on the cause and prevention of cholera.

With the additional funding, Florida Baptists have provided more than $67,500 since Oct. 25 to help churches affiliated with Confraternite Missionaire Baptist de Haiti combat the spread and treat the disease.

Craig Culbreth, who directs Florida Baptists' partnership missions department, reported that CMBH director of missions Joseph Philias from the North Association told him, "If all organizations did what CMBH did, we would not have cholera." Culbreth was in Haiti during the first week of December.

Florida Baptists have been in a 15-year partnership with CMBH churches, growing the organization from 88 churches in 1995 to more than 1,200 congregations.

Culbreth reported that as many as 15 Haitian Baptists have died from cholera, including two pastors, a pastor's wife and two entire families with five and seven members.

Concentrated efforts to curb the cholera outbreak from spreading are being focused on churches in Artibonite and Cap Haitian, the hardest-hit areas.

In November, all of the CMBH directors met in Miami with two Southern Baptist physicians, including Rebekah Naylor, former IMB missionary to India, who helped educate the Baptist ministers on the cause and prevention of the disease.

Barbara Denman is director of communications for the Florida Baptist Convention.

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