Kansans linked to Haiti wait, pray and hope

The emotional aftershocks of the earthquake in Haiti stretched across Kansas on Wednesday as those with ties to the ravaged country waited restlessly for word from their loved ones.

Wichita State University student Ashley Burns returned from Haiti about a week ago from a mission with her Andover church. She heard Wednesday from the missionary she knew there by e-mail.

She also found out later Wednesday that a fellow Hope Community Church member on a mission in Haiti was unharmed and working with U.S. officials to leave the country.

"Haiti is so chaotic on a normal day," said Burns, adding that there are no traffic signals or road markers, even in Port-au-Prince, the nation's capital.

"It's really hard for me to imagine how much worse it could be now."

The missionary Burns knows, Jan Thompson, moved from El Dorado to Gonaives, a town 100 miles outside Haiti's capital, a few years ago. She described in an e-mail Tuesday's quake and aftermath:

"At first we thought it might be a BIG truck going by (A VERY BIG TRUCK!!!) and Amanda [Thompson's daughter] thought the dryer was out of balance (LOL... WHAT DRYER?!!?)

"People are already lined up at gas stations and food will go quickly as the 'hub' of Haiti is Port au Prince. I don't need to tell you that my tears are falling pretty easily."

Wichita resident and native Haitian Marie Dolce didn't know for certain until Wednesday afternoon that her parents in the northern part of the country were OK. They felt the aftershock of Tuesday's earthquake, which knocked out the power and a fence.

"They said, 'We will be OK, but to continue to pray,' " said Dolce, who visits her parents every year on mission trips with the Wichita-based ASAP Haiti project.

Besides donating money, Dolce, a Salvation Army social worker, wants to travel to Haiti to help her homeland recover, as do other Haitians who live and work in Wichita.

"The connection is always there," she said. "It's hard to know here we couldn't do anything to help."

Camitha Louis-Salvante said she hadn't heard anything from her relatives who live in the northern part of her native Haiti.

"It's really hard to tell because most of the information comes from the west" part of the country, she said.

But from what she saw on the news and Facebook, Louis-Salvante thinks the people in her relatives' area "say they're OK, but we don't know what 'OK' is."

Louis-Salvante said she plans to donate to the Salvation Army and to Global Faith In Action, a humanitarian group based in Wichita that runs a school and clinic in northern Haiti.

Among the Kansans who are in Haiti today is Greg Love of Montezuma, who was one of six missionaries planning to install a concrete floor in a church during a 12-day visit.

Austin Love, Greg Love's 17-year-old son, said the group landed in Haiti hours before the earthquake hit and were planning to stay in a house just outside Port-au-Prince.

Austin Love had no contact with his father on Wednesday, but he said the leader of the group, who lives in nearby Pierceville, got a message through to his family late Wednesday afternoon that said he was safe.

The message said the house where the group was staying suffered some structural damage but was not destroyed by the earthquake. Austin Love said he and his family have faith that the remaining members of the western Kansas group also survived.

While the most urgent need is disaster relief in Port-au-Prince, Wichitans who want to help Haitians recover may want to look to local organizations that sponsor ongoing projects there, said Sam Muyskens, founder of Global Faith in Action.

When he was a director at Inter-Faith Ministries, Muyskens founded the ASAP Haiti project to support a school in Lambert, and he continues that project at his new organization.

"There's a greater need all over Haiti," he said. "It's so marvelous and wonderful they will do a lot of work to save lives. But if we as a people really want to help now, we need to be looking at organizations on the ground all over to help people re-establish lives."

The Salvation Army supports a network of schools in addition to its disaster relief services in Haiti.

Other local organizations working in Haiti include Alternative Gifts International and Epiphany Now, which work through non-government organizations already established in Haiti.

Dolce agreed with Muyskens, recalling from her childhood in Haiti how her small town was inundated with immigrants after devastating flooding in the southern part of Haiti.

"They came knowing nobody, looking so desperate, looking for somewhere to start over," she said.

And Dolce said her town wasn't — and probably still isn't — prepared for people leaving the devastated capital to start over.

"When they migrate to another area, that area does not have enough space," she said.

"There is no shelter."

Burns said her church mission group is planning another trip to Haiti in April.

"To do what we can do," she said. "If I could, I'd probably be on a flight there right now."