Mission trips take some local residents to offer help in Haiti, New York
Two mission trips brought local volunteers to help clean up after natural disasters in Haiti and Middleburgh, N.Y.
“Lives were affected and changed and transformed, and that’s the good thing,” said the Rev. David Bracht-Wagner, campus minister/chaplain for Iowa Wesleyan College.
Bracht-Wagner, who is also the pastor for youth and young adult faith development at First United Methodist Church in Mt. Pleasant, helped to lead both trips.
First up was a trip to Haiti with students from the global issues course at Iowa Wesleyan College.
There were a total of 10 people in the group, including Bracht-Wagner, seven students from IWC, a freshman student from Rice University in Houston, Texas, and a friend of Bracht-Wagner’s who is Haitian.
The group was in Haiti from May 7 to 15, helping to reconstruct a Methodist church in Campion that was damaged by the earthquake in 2010. The new church was being constructed around the old church, so it will be a little bit bigger when it is complete.
The group helped with construction by moving rock, gravel and sand.
“We were dump trucks pretty much,” joked Bracht-Wagner.
He said one of the most memorable experiences for him was one of the last days when the volunteers formed a bucket chain to deliver concrete up to the site.
“They mixed concrete by hand and they filled a bucket, and we had a bucket line for it going to there, and the kids who had been coming all week then created another line that took the empty buckets back that went through the church because they wanted to help out,” said Bracht-Wagner. “That was pretty cool.”
Mostly, though, Bracht-Wagner said he will remember the people — both the local kids whom they played with and the local volunteers they worked alongside.
“There’s paid construction workers who were there every day, but there were some of the people who were members of that church who were there every day helping us out who weren’t being paid to help,” said Bracht-Wagner. “It’s a beautiful country, and it’s a beautiful people. The vision statement that they have after the earthquake is ‘to build back better,’ and I think if we allow the Haitian people to do what they know needs to be done, it will be built back better.”
He hopes that the students got something out of it as well.
“For a lot of them, it was their first experience in a third-world country, and to go from the United States which is the wealthiest country in the western hemisphere, to Haiti, which is the poorest country in the western hemisphere, for some of them it was a little bit of shock,” said Bracht-Wagner. “But it was also an ability to see that a lot of the things that we gripe and complain about are really insignificant.”
Although Bracht-Wagner has not yet had a chance to read through the papers written by the students, one of the presentations he went through included the following from IWC student Samantha Shepard:
“To the kids who put smiles on my face and tears in my eyes… you give me a reason. A reason to not give up … to become better … to give … to hope … to dream.”
“To see the world from a different view. No one could ever take this away,” continued Shepard.
“That’s kind of the point of the global issues class,” said Bracht-Wagner. “To realize that it’s not just us right here wherever we are, but what we do, how does it affect the whole globe. How can we help bring about a better balance. I think that’s hopefully what they got out of it.”
Twelve days after returning from Haiti with the IWC students, Bracht-Wagner left on another mission trip to Middleburgh, N.Y.
The group of 10 volunteers from IWC, New Sweden Methodist Church and Marion Methodist Church in Marion spent a week in Middleburgh helping clean up the area that was hit hard by Hurricane Irene in August 2011.
“If you look at Middleburgh on a map, you’re going to say, ‘How was this affected by Hurricane Irene?’ because it’s near Albany, which is very much inland,” said Bracht-Wagner. “But where Middleburgh sits, it’s in a valley and the rain from Irene hit all that area and all that area drains into the valley. So a lot of the places had anywhere from 15 inches to four feet of water, depending on how close you were to the river.”
Bracht-Wagner found out about this area from family friend Jack Hill, who is coordinating the volunteers in Middleburgh. Hill had brought groups of volunteers to help after the 2008 floods in Cedar Rapids when Bracht-Wagner’s wife, Melisa, was coordinating the volunteers up there.
“When we looked at going out to New York, it was ‘let’s get a hold of Jack and see what he needs,’” said Bracht-Wagner. “Of the group that went out there, there were five of us that had been involved with the flood up in Cedar Rapids and had known Jack previously, so it was good to be able to see him.”
The group spent their time putting in kitchen cabinets, tearing out floors and walls, putting up drywall, putting down floors, painting, and planting flowers. They also found some time to do a little sightseeing.
“It was a really good balance between work and play,” said Bracht-Wagner.