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Haitians help Louisiana mission group return home

Volunteer Nycki Sorensen, mission worker Britney Winn and and the Rev. Hu Debo
share their experience of the Haiti quake. A UMNS photo by John Gordon.

By John Gordon*
Jan. 21, 2010 | SHREVEPORT, La. (UMNS)

Three members of First United Methodist Church in Shreveport, La., arrived Jan. 11 at the Big House orphanage in Les Cayes, Haiti, 140 miles from Port-au-Prince.

One day later, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake destroyed much of the island nation.

The mission team and the 75 orphans escaped injury, and the only damage to the building was a crack in the wall. But the quake began four days of uncertainty as the Louisiana team sought a way back to the U.S.

A mission group from Shreveport (La.) United Methodist Church passed scenes
of destruction throughout Haiti as they made their way home. A UMNS Photo courtesy of Nycki Sorensen.

“The house started to shake and it kind of looked like JELL-O,” said Britney Winn, 22, the church’s missionary to Haiti. “We were sitting on our beds, and we got up real quick because they were moving.”

Winn, along with the Rev. Hu Debo and volunteer Nycki Sorensen, sought to reassure their families they were unharmed. Sorensen said the group soon realized parts of the island had suffered a “catastrophe beyond any imagination.”

Sorenson sent a text message to her husband, Mark, minister to college students and young adults at First United Methodist Church.

“Building shook, power out, but we are SAFE,” the message said.

Cell phones quit working for a time after the initial quake. But the group was able to make occasional calls with a satellite phone to update anxious relatives on their progress.

“My nerves were completely on edge,” Mark Sorensen recalled. “I couldn’t watch the news much.”

The trio first tried to find a small plane in Les Cayes to fly to the Port-au-Prince airport, but it was overcrowded with relief flights. They also could not drive across the border to the Dominican Republic to catch a commercial flight because the border was closed to Haitians, and a native driver would not have been able to take them across.

Three days after the earthquake, the group arranged for a driver to take them to Port-au-Prince.

After waiting in line five hours to buy gas, the group began a four-and-a-half hour drive through roads sometimes blocked by rubble and makeshift camps and tents set up by survivors.

“We saw the tents and hundreds and thousands of people on the streets and sleeping out on the streets,” Winn said.

“Everything’s just leveled,” she added. “I remember seeing three huge concrete slabs just stacked on top of each other. And somebody said that used to be a three-story building.”

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Haitians helped them find the way to the U.S. Embassy where they received food and water and, within a few hours, a chance to return home. The three boarded a military cargo plane that took them to New Jersey. Then they took a bus to Philadelphia and flew home commercially.

“Every time we came to a place that we couldn’t pass, people pointed with smiles to the right direction for us to get out,” said Sorensen. “That’s not what was expected. The heart and the kindness of the people to help us get to safety were amazing.”

The Shreveport church has made a seven-year commitment to support the 75 orphans living at the Big House. Church members are posting updated information and videos about the orphanage on YouTube.

Soon after she arrived back home, Winn began organizing a tent city encampment at Shreveport’s Centenary College in an effort to raise $1 million for Haitian orphans. Nycki Sorensen said her immediate concern is making sure children at the orphanage have enough food.

The church also is planning to send a medical team to Haiti in February.

Winn said anyone who viewed the devastation had to find some way to help. “You don’t have a choice.”

“I’m so thankful and so overjoyed to be home and so thankful for all the prayers that got me back home,” she said. “But then I think about the people who don’t have a home to go back to.”

*Gordon is a freelance producer and writer based in Marshall, Texas.

News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.


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