Local church members home safeEleven volunteers from Five Oaks Community Church who were in Haiti on a mission trip to assist with an orphanage project are back home and safe with their families after the 7.0 earthquake hit the country Jan. 12.
By: Amber Kispert-Smith, Woodbury Bulletin
Editor’s note: The Woodbury Bulletin plans to follow up with several of the volunteers about their experiences in Haiti.
Eleven volunteers from Five Oaks Community Church who were in Haiti on a mission trip to assist with an orphanage project are back home and safe with their families after the 7.0 earthquake hit the country Jan. 12.
Three of the volunteers are from Woodbury — Jeff Schwartz and Mike and Jan Mularoni. One volunteer is from Cottage Grove — Adan Casas. They returned home Jan. 15.
“We were very concerned right from the start,” Pastor Henry Williams said. “It was a relief to hear that everybody was healthy.”
The volunteers traveled to Haiti on Jan. 9 to assist with the construction of All Of God's Children orphanage in Fedja, about 45 miles north of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital.
After the earthquake, all volunteers were safe, the children were not injured and the orphanage received no considerable damage, Williams said.
“I need to be there for the children, but I needed to get my team home to their families,” lead volunteer Mike Mularoni said.
The volunteers were able to leave Haiti late Thursday, Jan. 14, with the help of a military transport provided by the U.S. Embassy in Haiti.
“America is very good about taking care of its own,” said Pastor Keith Miraldi of the Five Oaks campus in Hudson, Wis.
A welcome home reception was held at the Woodbury church following their return.
Five Oaks Community Church has been sending its members to help construct the orphanage on an ongoing basis since 2005.
“As the days went on, the news just kept getting better and better,” Miraldi said. “It was such a great thing to see our church come together and see our church step up.”
Hanging on in Haiti
The church volunteers witnessed firsthand the death and devastation that filled the news in the days after the earthquake.
Luckily for the volunteers, though, the area where they were staying wasn’t near the hard-hit areas of Haiti. All volunteers agree that this is something they don’t ever want to experience again.
“We don’t get many earthquakes here in Minnesota,” Mularoni said.
Schwartz said at no point while in Haiti was he frightened, but it was unnerving when the earth rumbled beneath his feet and the building shook like rubber.
“I was never scared,” he said. “There was absolutely no part of me that was concerned — God was with us, I felt his presence.”
While in Haiti, Five Oaks Community Church’s ministry partners, Global Vision Citadelle Ministries, worked with the volunteers to help as many people as possible in the heart of the devastation.
Several Five Oaks Community Church volunteers traveled to Port-au-Prince. The sights they saw included entire buildings turned to rubble, bodies lining the streets and meek-voiced victims calling for help from under the rubble.
In the quake’s aftermath, Global Vision is housing people from Port-au-Prince at the orphanage.
Schwartz said that even though they wished they could have stayed and continued to help, it was time to get home to their families since it would be the best thing for everyone.
Haiti is struggling with its gas, food and water supplies, and there was no place for the volunteers to exchange their American checks.
“Our hearts were there, but we needed to get back to our families,” he said.
Waiting at home
While the volunteers struggled to get home and help as many people as they could, their families back home were fa ced with the unknown of when their loved ones would return.
Amy Schwartz, wife of Jeff Schwartz, said she didn't even know about the earthquake until she received a phone call from a close friend Tuesday night.
"I didn't really panic at first," she said, "but I panicked when I heard (7.0). I was shaking, but I had a feeling that he was OK.”
Amy Schwartz had been at her son’s wrestling match the evening of the earthquake and she said that at the exact moment of the earthquake she felt sick to her stomach.
“At one point during the evening, I just felt overwhelmed and nauseous,” she said.
After hearing of the earthquake, Amy Schwartz said she raced home to get in front of the television, and started sending out e-mails requesting prayers.
“I needed to focus, I needed to get my mind on things,” she said. “And I truly think God gave me that drive.”
Amy Schwartz, who is a religious and spiritual person, said that she could just feel God’s hand in all of this — protecting her husband, keeping her calm and having the right people down in Haiti to help.
“There’s a million things that could have happened,” she said. “But the right man is down there helping.”
Amy Schwartz said she was still anxious until she received an e-mail from her husband telling her that he was safe.
“Everything is fine — it’s been quite an experience — I hope I never have it go through this again,” he wrote in an e-mail to her. “Everyone is in good spirits and God is with us.”
Amy Schwartz and several of her neighbors, who still have their Christmas lights up, turned them on in support of everyone who was down in Haiti.
"The miracles that have happened and the people who have come to me with support are just amazing," she said. “I’m just blanketed with peace, with great friends and with prayer.”
Even though Amy Schwartz was concerned for her husband, and it certainly hasnt been one of the best experiences of her life, she said that she has faith that all of this happened for a reason.
“This awful experience has turned into an awesome journey — God is in all of this,” she said.