Mission Students Meet in Miami
by Melissa Hinnen
November 12, 2010--After eight weeks of conducting personal research and corresponding by email and online chats, nine United Methodists met in Miami this week as part of the Mission Travel Study to Haiti. They have read and discussed a number of books and articles about the faith, culture, politics, history, and economics of Haiti.
For the rest of the week, they will meet with churches and conferences that are in ministry with the Haitian Diaspora in Miami and in the Dominican Republic. On Saturday, the group will go to Haiti for a five-day immersion study of ministry in Haiti.
According to Giuseppina Avitia, who coordinates the study for the General Board of Global Ministries, "The goal of the study is for the students to acquire a better understanding of the situation in Haiti, especially in light of the January 12 earthquake.
They are committed to using what they learn to raise awareness and support for The Advance and mission efforts of Global Ministries, UMCOR, Women's Division, and other mission partners upon their return to their local churches and conferences."
The class is a mix of clergy and lay members who work at the local church and conference level and represent each of the five jurisdictions. While a few have been to Haiti, most are going for the first time.
During the orientation, Avitia reminded the group that, "even though Edgar Avitia and Melissa Hinnen from Global Ministries are leading the trip, they do not have all the answers. They are introducing you to the people who have the answers. It is your responsibility as students to ask the questions of the people you meet to gain a deeper understanding from the people who are living the Haitian experience."
Living in Between Countries and in Between Time
Judith Pierre-Okerson, a Global Ministries' director who is Haitian, met with the students at a Haitian restaurant in Miami called Tap Tap. Her brother, Jacques Pierre, who wrote the United Methodist Women 2011 regional mission study book, Haiti Challenges and Hope, joined them. They thanked the students for their interest in Haitian studies. Pierre said, "It is when we build relationships and take the time to know the 'other,' that we can get to love the 'other.' Thank you for taking the time to learn about our brothers and sisters in Haiti."
A primary theme of the discussion was what it is like to be a Haitian-American. Pierre fled Haiti when he was 25 years old. While he has lived in the US for 18 years, he still feels that he is viewed as an outsider. When he goes back to Haiti however, he is considered a foreigner. "I am in between country and in between time," he reports.
One of the Haitian-American students, Julie Fleurinor, noted similar feelings. In a recent article she wrote, she reflects on living in two worlds: "As a child, I would sit in front of the mirror and practice English over and over again. I wanted to be sure no one could detect an accent or point me out as being different. "
Seeking Justice in the United Methodist Church
The class spent time in La Petite Haïti (Little Haiti), a section of Miami where Haitian immigrants to the US have settled. Grace Haitian United Methodist Church, the first church of its kind, hosted the group for an evening of conversation. The United Methodist Women prepared and served dinner.
The church's pastor, the Rev. Preval Floreal, met with the group along with the chair of the Haitian National Network. They talked about the network of more than 25 Haitian United Methodist churches in the US. Most of the churches are in Florida, and many are considered "mission churches" and not chartered. They expressed concern that, because of their status, the true number of Haitian members in The United Methodist Church is not officially counted and they are without a strong voice at General Conference.
Following dinner, the conversation moved from church politics to spirituality. The United Methodist Women (UMW) and United Methodist Men of Grace led a discussion about their work in the community. The UMW meets every Wednesday to keep momentum. They hold an administrative meeting on the first Wednesday of every month and practice songs or engage in other activities in the following weeks.
They participate in the regional school of mission and engage in joint events with Jamaican and Latina UMW neighbors; many of the women attend the United Methodist Women's Assembly. In April, those who could not attend in person greeted the Assembly in St. Louis via Skype (internet voice call).
Most of them are US citizens and explained that, by becoming citizens, they were better equipped to help their families in Haiti. All of them send money, food, and clothes to their families who live in Haiti. Many of them expressed a longing for Haiti, with one woman saying, "There is no place like home."
When asked about the earthquake, many of the women had tears in their eyes. Said one, "You cannot measure the pain of January 12. It is hard still to even talk about what it was like to watch the images on the news. It could have been me. Each of the people that died was someone's child. We continue to grieve."
About the Mission Travel Study
The Mission Travel Study is based on the Geographic Mission Study led by the United Methodist Women. The 2011 study on Haiti will be taught at schools of mission around the country. Many of the participants in the Mission Travel Study will teach the mission study for their conference.
Participants are learning about the country, particularly around ministries related to the alleviation of poverty. In Haiti, individuals will learn from Methodist church projects, people, and partners who are reaching out to make a positive difference by accessing clean water, food, sanitation, shelter, education, and health for the people of Haiti. Upon their return home, participants will commit to raising awareness and support for the Haitian community right where they live.
UMCOR is partnering with the people of Haiti for years to come. Gifts to support UMCOR's work can be made online by visiting www.umcorhaiti.org. For gifts by mail, please make checks payable to UMCOR and mail to UMCOR, PO Box 9068, New York, NY 10087. Please indicate Haiti Emergency, UMCOR Advance #418325 on the memo line of your check. One hundred percent of gifts made to this Advance will help the people of Haiti. Give now www.umcorhaiti.org.
Melissa Hinnen is the Director of Communications for UMCOR.
Date posted: Nov 12, 2010