Lake area residents on a short mission trip to Haiti were among Americans who had to shelter in place for a day during recent rioting, but were able to make it home as planned.

 Lake area residents on a short mission trip to Haiti were among Americans who had to shelter in place for a day during recent rioting, but were able to make it home as planned.

The local group of 17 from six different churches, but mainly from United Methodist churches in Versailles, Glensted and Gravois Mills, Second Baptist Church in Versailles, arrived in Port-au-Prince on July 3 to distribute water filtration devices with Haiti WaterPlus, a partnership of the UMC Missouri Conference to help provide clean water in a country lacking good public infrastructure. The trip was coordinated by Pastor Lora Cunningham of the Versailles and Glensted churches at the request of three young men just confirmed in her churches. There were also people from a church in Tipton and Liberty, Missouri and an individual from Camdenton on the trip, according to Gravois Mills UMC Pastor Lynn Facemyer.

She and her husband Richard sat down with the Lake Sun to talk about the experience just hours after arriving home early Monday morning.

The team was able to successfully complete most of their mission, she said, distributing 150 water filters and visiting Duplan and Respire, an educational and help center for restaveks (child indentured servants) and orphans, in Greasier to learn more about Haitian living and culture July 4-5. They enjoyed a visit to the national museum, a local cafe and playing soccer with kids outside a medical clinic. Due to the poverty here, there is a lack of public infrastructure for drinking water. The filters are handheld devices that can take a bucket of dirty water and in transfer to another bucket, make it clean for drinking.

Based at the Methodist Guest House - located Delmas 105 Route de Freres, Petion-Ville, Haiti - the local mission team was out in the countryside Friday when rioting broke out in relation to an announcement by the government of plans to raise fuel prices.

According to reporting by the Associated Press, there were plans to raise fuel taxes from 38 percent to 51 percent.

The Lake area group had been visiting a farm in the mountains the morning protests broke out.

Brazil was playing Belgium in the quarterfinals of the World Cup, and passionate soccer fans had the game on everywhere - from the radio to communal TVs - rooting for Brazil, recalled Pastor Facemyer. As the populace watch the favored Brazil team unexpectedly lose, they were hit with the news that a huge fuel tax increase was coming.

The most widely used fuels of kerosene (for cooking) and diesel (for driving) would have been impacted in a country stricken with extreme poverty.

“The way everybody talked about it, it was a perfect storm,” she said.

Coming down from the mountains, the mission team was in two vehicles, each with a driver and interpreter. As they came back to Port-au-Prince, the violent protests were underway, but the small caravan was able to avoid the worst of the mobs and violence thanks to the ingenuity and bravery of their Haitian drivers and interpreters. On their personal and work cell phones as well as calling out to pedestrians on the street, these men were in constant contact with others trying to find the safest route home.

As they wound through back streets and alleyways and conditions in the city worsened, the two-vehicle caravan became separated. Then, Facemyer said, their Haitian escort determined it was too unsafe to drive any further due to major incidents blocking streets in every direction.

There were people blocking roads with boulders and rocks and setting tires on fire. As they emerged from their vehicle, the group Facemyer was with heard gunshots. It was still nearly two miles to their quarters, a residential compound that also includes a school located on a side street just off a major thoroughfare. The compound is gated off with huge steel slabs.

As they made what would be a physically arduous journey anyway, conditions on the street worsened as rioting swelled.

Facemyer said they eventually knocked on the door of another compound, seeking shelter. They were allowed in and sheltered there as the Haitian driver went back out to scout a way forward. Facemyer noted that there are largely no street signs around the city, another telling lack of infrastructure and another challenge to navigation.

Their Haitian escort multiplied, friends and associates of the Haitians who were helping them. All unarmed except for cell phones, they began the final walk in through more side streets and through a neighborhood back into the mountain, as Facemyer described it.

With Haiti a black-majority populace, the mission trip team members were the only Caucasians in sight and stuck out as foreigners. While the violence was not necessarily aimed at them, precautions were taken.

“We were told not to look anyone in the eye,” Facemyer recalled.

But it wasn’t all bad. Most of the walk wound through neighborhoods rather than the commercial areas where most of the violence was taking place. They even crossed an open place where children were playing soccer.

The neighborhoods seemed poor to Facemyer, but according to their guides, they were actually going what is considered a middle class area in Haiti. One of the residents brought a chair out of their home so one of the team members could rest a few minutes as they walked the mountain.

“It was scary, but I had complete trust in the men who had my arms. There were always helping hands pulling me along,” said Facemyer.

Some men also went ahead to scout safer routes until finally they came out on the main thoroughfare just over a block from the compound.

There were smoldering piles of debris, recalled Facemyer, and almost the moment they walked out crowds of people around them. The mission team was unable to understand anything, making the situation more unnerving from not being able to understand the Haitian’s Creole French.

At first, their escort had them walk slowly, trying to avoid drawing attention, but as crowds of protestors and rioters milled around the intersection, they began pushing at the mission group, and their escort told them to run.

They made it safely the rest of the way. Overall, the walk through Port-au-Prince had taken 45 minutes, according to Facemyer.

While it was not an easy experience, Facemyer said she truly feltGod’s mighty hand over them throughout the journey, and believed not just in God but also in God working through their Haitian escort to get them home safely.

“In spite of the fear and how it difficult it was, we met Haitian people who cared for us,” she said. “Just as the people here at a Bible study don’t represent all of Gravois Mills, the people who were protesting don’t represent all of Haiti.”

The second group also had to abandon their vehicle at some point and walk in, according to Facemyer. They ended up taking shelter in a guarded grocery store that was fairly close to the Methodist Guest House compound for a longer period of time, venturing out to cross the main thoroughfare that evening, coming at least part of the way in the dark.

All safely back at the compound, they slept on their bunk beds through the night able to hear the rioting ebb and flow in proximity to the compound, including the sound of tear gas canisters being fired by police.

The hardest part, according to Richard, the fear of the unknown, not being able to understand the language, only sensing the agitation and anger.

The next morning, electricity was out, and cell phone service was impacted. The U.S. Embassy warned its citizens in country to shelter in place. All flights in and out of Haiti were cancelled.

The government dismissed the plans to raise fuel prices, but the momentum had swung too far toward violence for the time being, and rioting continued.

The Lake area mission team sheltered in place throughout the day. Not that there was any great hardship in that, according to the Facemyers. They had adequate food and water. A generator was operated at night to help keep the facility cool for sleeping.

Saturday morning, Facemyer said she heard the Haitian ladies who worked in the kitchen singing in Creole a hymn she knew, “On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand.” Singing along in English, they joined together to sing and pray together. Facemyer was touched, knowing despite their own hardship the Haitian women were praying for the mission team.

“It was powerful. Absolutely awesome,” recalled Facemyer.

Sunday morning came, and the decision was made to go to the airport early to see if they could catch their previously scheduled flight. The violent protests continued around the city, evidenced by trails of smoke in the sky and boulders in the roadways. The nearby gas station they had passed on Friday was looted and empty.

But the driver was able to scout a safe route to the airport, traveling through residential neighborhoods. Some Haitians could be seen out and about, some dressed like they were on their way to church, while piles of what had been littered the grounds and other piles of debris seemed to away the return of unknown protestors.

The caravan of three vehicles this time arrived safely at the airport under armed security.

The airport was open and had housed some people overnight with minimal water and no food. They checked in and hung out. As the day wore, they believed their flight would most likely be cancelled at the last minute as was happening with others. There were no planes on the tarmac, according to Richard.

Then, an airplane. It was a jet out of Miami, where the mission team was scheduled to return. Richard said he knew then they were going home.

The Lake area mission team got the first flight out of Port-au-Prince since the rioting had begun.

Empty seats on the jet were reminders of people who likely hadn’t yet been able to make it to the airport and had missed the flight, he added.

Many of the passengers on board were from mission teams from various parts of the US. When the plane took off, the Miami-bound passengers began clapping. As the flight got underway, the Facemyers could see black smoke rising from the city below.

According to reporting by the Associated Press, it appears to have been just one of three planes to leave Port-au-Prince and the northern city of Cap-Haitien on Sunday. Dozens of people, including other church groups and volunteers from the US, remained stranded at the airport in Port-au-Prince.

The couple both said they wouldn’t trade their time in Haiti for anything.

“It was an adventure, but I also learned so much,” said Richard. “What you see on CNN or Fox News is not all there is. Haiti is not a lousy place. The people I met, the experience I had playing soccer with the kids, it was wonderful.”

For all the Haitians rioting, there were others concerned for the Americans’ well-being, apologizing for the behavior of their countrymen.

“Whether it was God keeping us safe or through his people, God’s power is real. That gives me nothing to fear. I would absolutely go back,” said Facemyer. “There’s so much there that needs help, and the [Methodist] mission for clean water will continue.”Their one regret was having to miss the last day of mission where they would have entered people’s home to check on previously distributed water filters.

“We left here thinking we were offering some great benefit [to Haitians], but what we received was just as big if not bigger,” said Richard, meeting new friends and sharing the Christian spirit — experiencing “the fellowship of humanity.”

To support the two missions in Haiti mentioned in this article, go to www.respirehaiti.org or haitiwaterplus.org.