For several months, Catherine Hasty and Jerry Beck had planned to get married on June 15.
They also agreed to postpone their honeymoon – so they could join other members of the First Baptist Church of Aiken on a mission trip to Haiti.
“We were asking ourselves if we should still do the trip,” said newly married Catherine Beck. “But we had been working with the youth group at church, too. We knew we really wanted to go, and it was a neat way to start our marriage.”
Her father, Tim Hasty and her sister, Sarah Hasty, also participated in the mission, organized by the Rev. Mary Carol Anderson, associate pastor for student ministries. During their week in the town of Grand Goave, near Port-au-Prince, the group members did much of the work on a “rubble” house for a family of eight – relying on materials from the devastating earthquake that struck in January 2010.
“It's overwhelming how much is still needed, how destructive the earthquake was,” Tim said. “(The town) was 15 miles from the epicenter, and it still did a lot of damage. Ninety percent of the houses were destroyed.”
The mission was task-oriented to build a house, said Gray Johnson, a Furman University sophomore.
“It was a cultural venture and also a spiritual experience, providing a mother and father something they needed,” Johnson said. “It was not something I expected.”
The area in which the group worked is called tent city and is desperately impoverished. The family aided by the Americans had been living within a wooden frame with tarps serving as walls.
“It was not a real structure,” said Jerry. “The home we built is 15-by-21 feet, smaller than some of our living rooms. Yet it will be significantly larger that what they've had, and the family is thrilled to have this new facility.”
Anderson recognized the hopefulness of the Haitian residents, how they persist in working so hard to provide for their families. Last Sunday, the First Baptist members attended Silhoe Baptist Church in Grand Goave – funded by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship to help rebuild it.
The church is gorgeous, Anderson said, and the balloons still stand from the grand-opening held in May.
“The service was in Creole and we spent a lot of time listening to them in worship service,” she said. “You could tell how they were thanking God for all they had and are given. We introduced our team and thanked them for giving us a chance to be in their community in partnership.”
The group decided to sponsor a little girl from the tent city so she could attend a school. Anderson and Hasty had the opportunity the meet the child and her dad, and experience directly their gratitude for the support.
The participants from Aiken readily acknowledged that U.S. residents take their lives for granted, always wanting more money and bigger houses and cars.
“We never really get happy, always changing our goals of happiness,” said Hasty. “Everybody in Haiti seems to be happy with what they had. The kids especially had the biggest smiles on their faces.”
From the moment the group members arrived in Grand Goave, the children gravitated to Catherine. She couldn't speak Creole and they couldn't understand English, but the kids seemed to understand she is a teacher. Catherine began her teaching career at the East Aiken School of the Arts last fall.
She started playing with the kids right away. They're the same as her students, playing games with each other. They taught her how to count to 10 in Creole.
“They are some of the happiest kids I've ever seen,” Catherine said. “It makes me appreciate the kids I have. Some of them have hard times, too, and as a teacher, I wanted to do everything I can for them.”
The other participants included Tommy Sessions, Chuck Martin, Harrison Martin, Madison Martin, Julie McLain, Chrissie Alexander, Sally Tice, Victor Tice, Gordon Eisenman, Jack Eisenman, Jesse Eisenman, Drew Epps, Sarah Laurence and Clark LeMaster.
Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001. He is a native of Walterboro and majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.