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RESOURCE CENTER AND ARCHIVES

Alabama Baptist volunteers care for Haitian orphans in Jacmelcomment (0)

September 2, 2010

By Carrie Brown McWhorter


In the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti on Jan. 12, perhaps no story was more distressing than the plight of thousands of children orphaned by the quake.

Reporters told of babies sleeping in the backs of pickup trucks, teenagers sleeping outside and children wandering the streets unprotected.

In a country long plagued by extreme poverty, 380,000 Haitian children were already orphans, according to UNICEF. After the earthquake, aid groups estimated that the number of orphaned children would rise by the tens of thousands.

In Alabama, Tanya Birchfield, a member of First Baptist Church, Montgomery, in Montgomery Baptist Association, had been praying for an opportunity to be involved in orphan care. She and her husband, Andy, had recently added a daughter to their family through adoption, and she felt God leading her family to work toward involving her church family in ministering to the needs of orphaned and vulnerable children both at home and abroad.

The Birchfields shared their ideas with Brian Gay, minister of missions at First, Montgomery, and Mel Johnson, disaster relief strategist for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (SBOM). They learned of the efforts of Alabama Baptists already ministering in Haiti (see story, page 4), and Tanya Birchfield immediately knew the Lord had provided a unique opportunity to work with other Alabama Baptists to help Haitian orphans.

“We shared our heart with Mel about what we wanted to do, and he already knew where we could help,” she said.

In May, the SBOM adopted the city of Jacmel in southern Haiti as part of Southern Baptist relief efforts in the Caribbean country. Through his connections with a pastor in Jacmel, Johnson knew of Samuel, a 22-year-old man in the city who was caring for 16 orphaned children. The earthquake destroyed Samuel’s home, and though he had found temporary lodging for eight of the children, he and the remaining children were living in a tent.

The Birchfields, Gay and Johnson were part of a team who went to Haiti in early August to introduce the Birchfields to Samuel and the children in his care. They heard their stories — emotional stories of abandonment and abuse that moved them to action.

With Johnson’s help, the Birchfields secured a rental home for Samuel and all the children and found furnishings for it. They left praying for God to send more volunteers to help the children and His guidance as to what would be next for all of them.

On Aug. 15, Dr. Victor Norman, a member of First Baptist Church, Red Bay, in Franklin Baptist Association, visited Samuel and the children for medical evaluations. The needs he and other missions volunteers working with him saw in the children reflected those he saw in patients of all ages during his week in Haiti.

“You name it, they need it,” Norman said.

“The people have a lot of health issues related to nutrition, clean water, parasites, stomach problems and skin diseases especially.”

A veteran of several missions trips, most of them to Ecuador, Norman said the poverty in Haiti, exacerbated by the earthquake, made the needs seem greater there. “We saw a lot of sick children and a lot of sick adults who have many long-term needs in terms of food, clean water and health care,” he said.

Johnson said volunteers from around the state are excited about the opportunity to help some of Haiti’s youngest residents with their most basic physical and spiritual needs. As more volunteers go to Haiti, they will be able to build upon and strengthen the work that other Alabama Baptists have begun.

“This is a collective effort from all of our [Alabama Baptist] churches, and anyone who wants to participate, we’d love to have them come alongside and assist,” Johnson said.

As she thinks about “Samuel’s kids,” as she calls them, Tanya Birchfield believes there are several areas in which volunteers could help.

“Pray for Samuel, who is really young to take on such responsibility. Pray for these children, who need money for school fees, uniforms and supplies,” she said.

Tanya Birchfield also sees a need for volunteers who can teach the children hair care and hygiene, financial management and the value of work. “These children are so used to getting help from others, and they need to learn ways to earn money for their education and their basic needs,” she said.

Though Tanya Birchfield does not know exactly what the future holds for these children, she does know that her family and others will continue to stay involved with them.

“We want them to have some sense of permanency and a future — education, an adequate home environment and all that. But more than that, we want them to know the love of Christ. Our main focus is to get our church and others involved in carrying out the commandment to care for the orphaned.”

For more information about volunteering or making a donation, visit www.alsbom.org/haiti or call 1-800-264-1225.

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