By Jessica Brodie
CHAPIN—A mostly youth mission team from Chapin United Methodist Church and a United Methodist family with young children from Leesville were among a large group of Americans unexpectedly stranded in Haiti in early July after major rioting there.
The team and family are home safe now, and all are thanking United Methodists locally and globally for prayers that kept them and the people of Haiti from significant harm.
The Chapin mission team did a week of service with Mission of Hope in the village of Titanyen, Haiti, north of Port-au-Prince. They were scheduled to head home July 7, but mass riots in Port-au-Prince and elsewhere over a fuel price hike forced them and other groups to hole up at the mission and wait for a safer time to travel.
The Stapleton family—Scott and Allison and three of their children Margeaux, Jack and Kennedy—of Leesville UMC were in Haiti to spend time with their fourth daughter, Jenny, whom they will be adopting from an orphanage there. They’d been staying at the Marriott, but the riots forced them to hole up at the private home of a family they know.
Haitian Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant issued a temporary halt to the price increase, and riots settled down enough for the Chapin team and the Stapleton family to fly home safely late July 9.
“Praising God for His goodness and for His mercies!” the Rev. Jody Flowers, senior pastor at Chapin, said in a statement on Facebook. “Please continue to pray for all other mission teams and for all of the nation. May the Prince of Peace reign!”
The Chapin mission team’s experience
The Chapin team was led by Emily Wheaton, one of three adults on the trip. The rest were teens. They were working with Mission of Hope, a mission partner of Chapin UMC that works to bring life transformation to men, women and children in Haiti, from health care and housing to education.
Other United Methodist mission groups stuck in Haiti were a team from Providence UMC in Mount Juliet, Tennessee, and a team from First UMC in Rockingham, North Carolina.
The day after the Chapin team’s safe return, Flowers told the Advocate that while he and the church are so very grateful for their members’ safe return, “Our hearts are still heavy with concern for the other teams that are still stranded and for the precious people of Haiti whom we love.”
Flowers called Mission of Hope “amazing” and said they could not have done more to keep the team safe and encouraged.
Flowers said he is also very grateful for the prayers of Chapin members, who prayed earnestly during the crisis and are continuing to do so.
“The Lord’s heart for the nations is so beautifully on display in the lives of the CUMC family, and I’m so thankful to be able to witness this on a day-to-day basis,” Flowers said. “This church understands and embraces the Lord’s commission for us to go into all the world and make disciples—and they know that when you go into the world you sometimes encounter the world in ways that are difficult and challenging. This experience in Haiti has not shifted our mindset at all. As the Lord continues to give us opportunities we will continue to go and offer Christ to all.”
The Stapleton family’s experience
Allison Stapleton told the Advocate they have a huge heart for Haiti and its people, and this was their fifth trip to the nation this year. This time, they’d planned to make it more of a bonding vacation where the whole family and their soon-to-be-adopted daughter, Jenny, could spend quality time.
“We got there Wednesday, spent all day Thursday at the pool, and then Friday morning we got up and brought some items to the orphanage,” she said.
But on their way back, she said, their drive turned into a nightmare.
“It was amazing to see God’s hand on us throughout that trip,” Stapleton said.
Their driver, a Haitian man from the orphanage, had to reroute several times trying to get to the hotel because the roads were blocked. On the side of the road, they could see tires lined up stuffed with paper—which they later learned would be set ablaze and blown up, killing bystanders.
It was 100 degrees that day, so the driver decided to turn around and find a restaurant to wait out the ruckus, which the Stapletons and their driver thought was just another small-scale demonstration, not uncommon in that city.
“We sat down, and I started checking my phone and saw seven emails from the Embassy,” Stapleton said. “Every one was saying, ‘The whole country’s on fire, basically.’”
They realized it would be impossible to get back to their hotel, so they looked at a map and realized they just happened to be near a private home where they had stayed on their trip in February. The family and the driver walked to the home and begged for shelter, and there they hunkered down for the next several days.
“They were burning up cars right in front of the house where we were staying,” Stapleton said.
At one point early Sunday morning, her husband and the driver left to assess, and she said they saw several dead bodies in the street.
Still, they had shelter, safety and each other—all that was important. They even managed to keep their cell phone signal so they could update worried family and friends back home.
“We can’t say enough about how nice the people were that we stayed with,” she said. “Haiti is not a bad, scary, dangerous country—it’s really not. People would give their own food and fuel for their own families to us! They were so worried we’d never come back.
“But this is an isolated incident. We are going back!”
A special moment during their ordeal came when they realized all their belongings back at the Marriott—clothing, computers, personal items—would have to be abandoned. They had their passports and money with them, so this wasn’t an issue to them, except their 8-year-old daughter Kennedy had left her precious blanket and stuffed monkey, which she’d had since she was tiny, back in the hotel room. When the riots began to settle, their driver decided to drive across town on his own, pack up their suitcases, and bring them to the family.
The smile on young Kennedy’s face when she clutched her blanket and monkey, Stapleton said, was priceless.
The next morning, they set out early for the airport and had no trouble. Now they are back home safe in Leesville, praising God, and getting ready to return in September when they can finally bring their adopted daughter Jenny home.
“They are good, kind people who worship Christ,” Stapleton said. “We love Haiti.”