Metro Detroit church members in Haiti headed home
Members of a Metro Detroit church working in Haiti all are expected back in the United States by Wednesday after being stranded when protests erupted in the impoverished nation.
Many flights to the United States were canceled over the weekend due to demonstrations as a result of the government's now-rescinded plan to raise fuel prices.
Kensington Church members began returning Monday. Protests, violence and roadblocks continued across the country, according to a U.S. Department of State emergency travel alert. Flights back to the U.S. are overbooked and the Port-au-Prince airport has limited food and water and is advising travelers only to head to the airport if their flight is confirmed to be departing, the State Department said.
Orion Township Supervisor Chris Barnett has been in Haiti with his two daughters since June 30. On Sunday, one church team consisting of members from the Orion campus known as the Orion Family Team was moved from the Bercy village campus to the main Mission of Hope campus so members could join the church's second team, made up of a high school ministry, the Edge Team. The move put the teams closer to the airport, he said.
"There were five school buses and it was about a 25 minute ride last night right before dark," Barnett said of their trip to the main campus. "There were roadblocks that were cleared out of the way. A truck that had to be moved out of the way that was burned out."
Other obstacles included rocks and smoldering tires in the roads. Barnett and his daughters are due back Tuesday or Wednesday.
The 107 members in Haiti from Kensington Church were doing missionary work at the Mission of Hope organization, according to Justin Warns, discipleship director.
The first church team arrived in Haiti on June 30 and was due back Saturday. The second team arrived last Wednesday and was due back Wednesday.The church has sent multiple groups each year to the island nation since the magnitude 7.0 earthquake in 2010 devastated Haiti. The church has done work in Haiti for more than 20 years and provides meals, education and health care to local people as part of the church's ministry.
Warns credits Mission of Hopewith keeping church members safe and establishing a smooth departure process.
"They are the ones who are leading through the situation, providing us with information, connecting with the embassy, and they’re helping take in all of that information and make the best decision for our people as we navigate this difficult moment," Warns said.
Barnett said church members are safe within the Mission of Hope campus.
"We haven't witnessed any violence," Barnett said in a phone interview Monday evening. "As I’m standing here, I’m looking at a fire off in the distance (at) a big, black smoke fire, probably tires. But we haven’t heard gunshots; we haven’t heard anything like that."
Barnett estimates there are about 350 people at Mission of Hope from churches across the U.S. He said that about five buses carrying American passengers had departed for the airport and a "steady flow of people" were departing.
"We’ve had several groups leave and make it to the Port-au-Prince airport," Barnett said.
The first group of members from the Orion Family Team arrived in the U.S. on Monday afternoon, according to a Facebook post in the public “Haiti 2018 Kensington Group.”
“10 of us made it to Miami! Praise God!!,” Kristen Mastrogiacomo Tabert wrote in the group. “Praying for the rest of the flights to make it in safely!!!!! We love all our team members!”
"Our group has been excited to go home since Saturday at 4 a.m. and is really more excited to go home than ever," Barnett said. "But we have food, we have water, we’re safe. You know, we’re in no immediate danger except that we’re tired and we’d love to be in air conditioning."