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Wyatt Smith, 14, holds a Haitian child during a week-long mission trip to the poverty-strickened country. The North Albemarle Baptist Church mission team is back home after being stranded in Haiti after an uprising over increased fuel prices created unsafe conditions.

Uprising strands church missionary team in Haiti

A team of 12, including two teens, from North Albemarle Baptist Church is among a number of American missionary groups stranded in Haiti because of an uprising.

First slated to leave Saturday from a week-long mission trip in the underdeveloped nation, a forced closure at the airport after escalating protests delayed the team’s departure. As conditions worsened overnight, Sunday’s planned exit was nixed as well.

“Traveling to the airport is a no-go. It’s just not safe, ” said the Rev. Brad Lynch, North Albemarle Baptist Church. “We’re getting reports of citizens arming themselves.”

The U.S. Embassy in Haiti has warned American citizens to stay inside while demonstrations continue. Protesters have been burning tires as barricades to streets and looting establishments since the Haitian government spiked fuel prices.

Last week gasoline prices increased 38 percent, diesel prices soared 47 percent and kerosene topped an extra 51 percent in the poverty-strickened Haiti, CNN reported from the its daily newspaper Le Nouvelliste.
Estimates show about 160 people from American churches are in Haiti on various mission objectives.

Mission trips there are typically higher during the summer months because of vacations.

North Albemarle’s objective with the mission trip was threefold: medical, construction and orphanage. The team was providing assistance in all three areas.

Outraged citizens took to the streets this weekend to show their disdain toward a government long deemed corrupt.

“This is the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Lynch said. “The Haitians we have on the ground are saying they’ve never seen anything like this.”

North Albemarle’s team is presently staying at an orphanage where they have been working. The site is about 45 minutes north of the nation’s capital of Port-au-Prince, Lynch said.

Orphanages are considered “holy ground” by Haitians, suggesting the team is as safe there as anywhere, he added.

“We’re thankful that they’re safe in the compound,” said Brittany Blalock, whose husband David is part of the team. She explained that most Haitians grow up in an orphanage and remain respectful of the facilities.

On Sunday team member Wiliam Louis, a former resident of Haiti and there with his wife, decided to walk toward the capital city only to find protests had spread as more roads were blocked with burning tires, making the trek to the airport unsafe.

Reports include armed protestors requiring tolls to pass.

Renewed plans call for the team to leave Wednesday amid hopes tensions might ease by then.

While the team is considered reasonably safe at the orphanage, a new concern is food and clean water. Because they were scheduled to depart, the team gave away their supplies Friday night, including clothing.

“We’re going to run out of food and drinking water,” Lynch said. “If they drink dirty water they’re going to get sick.”

Meanwhile, family members and the church have been scurrying to get help to the team. Along with supplies, supporters have been trying to make sure team members have cash.

But mostly they’re doing what can to ensure their safety so they can depart as soon as possible. Supporters have contacted their elected officials for help.

Congressman Richard Hudson is among those lending a hand.

“What’s happening in Haiti is terrible. I’ve heard from one group of missionaries from the eighth district,” Hudson said. “Everyone is safe and I have been actively working with the State Department throughout the weekend to ensure their safety and get them home. I am encouraging any other missionary groups from our district who are in Haiti to reach out immediately. I will continue to pray and do all that I can to guarantee their safe return home.”

Two teenagers are a part of the North Albemarle Baptist Church’s team.
Rocky Smith said his wife, Beverly, and their 14-year-old son, Wyatt, have been amazing in the face of their team’s adversity.

“What amazes me is that they have such a strong faith,” Rocky Smith said.
Prayers continued at Sunday’s church services for team members expected to have returned and resumed their responsibilities back at home this week.

“Employers have been super helpful and understanding,” Blalock said. “Their life was supposed to pick back up.”

Missionary teams from North Albemarle Baptist Church have been serving in Haiti for nearly two decades without incident before this ordeal, Lynch said.

Despite the upheaval that has delayed the group’s return, supporters remain faithful this, too, is part of God’s greater plan.

“We just have to have faith in the Lord,” Lynch said. “He’s in control of all this. That’s where our hope is.”

For other mission groups in Haiti that might need assistance, contact Congressman Richard Hudson’s office at 704-786-1612 or 202-225-3715.

Contact Ritchie Starnes at 704-754-5076 or ritchie.starnes@stanlynewspress.com.