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Stranded during Haiti protests, Alabama woman would serve island nation again

From July 8-10, Bonnie George saw the Caribbean country of Haiti transform into a cauldron of trouble, as citizens erupted in protest over skyrocketing gasoline prices.

As prices jumped overnight to $5 a liter, some people reacted in frustration. The average Haitian family makes $2 a day. George witnessed the firestorm during a mission trip but says the experience won’t keep her from helping again.

“In this situation, I always knew that God would get me home,” the Springville resident said. “The main mission for me is the children – they so desperately need to see hope in their lives. That’s what we give when we go there. I would go back in a heartbeat.”

George and her son, Jackson Tucker, became onlookers to Haiti’s unrest during a trip with Faith Community Fellowship of Trussville.

On June 30, with 12 fellow church members, George and Tucker arrived at Mission of Hope, an orphanage and school in the village of Titanyen, north of the capital Port-au-Prince. George, who had served on mission trips to Nicaragua, found Haiti beautiful.

The areas surrounding the beaches, heavily frequented by tourists, seemed safe despite Port-au-Prince still being in recovery from the 7.0 earthquake that hit Jan. 12, 2010.

“It’s a different level of poverty that you see,” said George, an Alabama Power customer service representative at the Pell City Office. “You see the differences in the infrastructure, such as the roads, and the power lines. I could tell the electrical system seemed to need improvements, compared to our system here.

“This was my fourth mission trip, but my first trip to Haiti,” said George, who was traveling for the first time without her husband, Gary. The couple have been youth leaders at Faith Community Fellowship for six years. Tucker, too, was “all in” to serve – in June, he turned 17 during a mission trip to El Salvador.

The trip started well. Mission of Hope has a campus with bunkhouses where teams can stay for an extended time. The main common area has a kitchen. The entire area is guarded.

“We were supposed to stay from Saturday, June 30, to Saturday, July 7,” George said. “We worked at a village next door to the mission, and spent the mornings working with children in a sports camp. We gave the message of Jesus Christ each day.

“We’d feed hundreds of kids every day,” she said. “We provided a meal of rice and beans cooked together, with either chicken or a mixture of beef with rice and beans. We painted two houses in the community, and even delivered goats to two families.”

On July 3, George received word that her maternal grandfather, Burnie Higginbotham Sr., had died in Mount Olive. Her grandmother had died in May. Executive Pastor Mike Ennis offered to help George and her son leave early. But George felt that she should stay: She owed it to her grandfather.

“My granddad would have said that he wouldn’t want me to leave for a funeral,” she said.

Within days, violence erupted in Haiti. The ministry team became aware of the protests as looters vandalized and burned shops in the capital. The government warned U.S. citizens to shelter in place.

“First of all, the entire situation was validation that the work these organizations do is needed,” George said. “Secondly, I knew that God is in control. There was truly nothing I could do in this situation, but I had a peace in knowing that God would get me home.

“I could understand, on the one hand, the feelings of the people,” she said. “It is a tremendous financial strain for these people to provide for their families. They are living in poverty. I’ve never walked so blindly in my faith in God as I did those few days. From the Mission of Hope, we could see smoke in the distance. On July 7, we loaded up on the buses at 5 a.m., but the leaders told us not to leave.”

On Monday, July 9, the group finally got on the road to the airport. The ministry team was shaken by the sight of the aftermath of the turmoil: Cinder blocks were stockpiled on the roadsides, later pushed aside to allow traffic to pass. Scores of 18-wheel trucks were abandoned after blocking traffic during the protests.

“Thankfully, we were only 30 minutes outside Port-au-Prince,” George said. “We didn’t get out until Monday evening, and we got home on Tuesday.

“This was a life-altering trip,” said George, who has no regrets about ministering in Haiti. “Understanding the ‘why’ of something happening, it’s easier to accept the conditions. I plan to return to Mission of Hope to work next summer.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)