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Before she left for Haiti, Amy Holmes knew her trip to the poor Caribbean nation would be unlike any she ever had taken. The tarantula in her bed on her first night in the southwestern seaport town of Cayes further convinced her she was right.
Holmes, one of 12 people from Second Cape May Baptist Church in Upper Township who traveled in March on a mission to Port-a-Piment, said she said a quick prayer that nothing worse would happen during the group’s week in Haiti and went to sleep.
The next day, the group was greeted with a parade at their final destination, a destitute town of 14,000 where they ministered for the next six days to members of their sister church. Second Cape May Baptist has participated in the sister church program for 30 years, since the program’s inception in the early 1980s.
“It was a ministry of presence,” said Holmes, an Upper Township third-grade teacher who made the trip for the first time, as did her son, Matthew, 14, and her mother, Mitzi Tolson. Others in the group were making repeat visits, including Holmes’ father, Mike Tolson, who was on his sixth trip, and John Peterson, on his 18th trip. “We were coming alongside our brothers and sisters in Christ and encouraging them.”
“We often do work projects,” said Bill Fosbenner, an Ocean City car dealership service manager who made his sixth trip. His daughter, 16-year-old Rachel, an Ocean City High School sophomore, was among those making her first mission trip to Haiti. “This time, it was three days of ministry.”
The Second Cape May Baptist missionaries – who also included Chris Phalen, Stephanie Thompson, Cyndi Kopitski, 14-year-old Kate Matera and Ocean City High School senior Jesse Peterson – held a vacation bible school for Haitian youngsters, a men’s gathering and a ladies’ tea. They visited satellite churches on two other days, and also delivered food to widows and shut-ins.
Heeding the call to serve
“God needed me to go there and be in those children’s lives,” said Matthew Holmes, whose inclusion on the trip marked the first time Second Cape May Baptist sent three generations of the same family on one of its missions. “I played sports with the kids. We made a connection through basketball and soccer.”
To document the life-changing experience, Matthew Holmes made a four-minute film featuring photographs of the people he met and set it to “Take Me There,” a Christian rap song by Southern singer and pastor Trip Lee. View Holmes’ video here:
“It costs a lot to go,” Bill Fosbenner said of the $1,600-per-person expense. “That’s money that could be well used elsewhere but it wouldn’t have had the personal touch.”
Despite the stark contrast between the wealth of his homeland and the impoverishment of Haiti, Matthew Holmes said he did not yearn for material things while he was away.
“All the distractions I have here, I put them away,” he said. “I didn’t think about them at all.”
The missionaries distributed 300 gift bags containing flip flops to the children of Port-a-Piment, and Matthew Holmes gave a set of congo drums to Jefhmy, an 11-year-old boy his family has sponsored for the last four years, and Jefhmy’s sister, whom they will sponsor next year. Sponsorship fees are $335 annually and help to provide the children with access to a Christian education, a school uniform and a hot meal daily.
“We’re not trying to Americanize Haiti,” Amy Holmes said.
“The idea is not to save them physically,” Bill Fosbenner said. “The idea is to save them spiritually. The goal is to help them where they are.”
Haiti is known as a Fourth World country because its growth and development are practically nonexistent, the result of an unstable political climate and corrupt government. The small island nation, one of the poorest in the world with 65 percent of its population living in extreme poverty, has one of the highest HIV/AIDS rates in the entire Caribbean. Before traveling, the Cape May County contingent received necessary immunizations for malaria and typhoid, and took language lessons to familiarize themselves with the island’s native tongues of Creole and French.
Despite the hardships they witnessed, the missionaries said they received as much as they gave during the trip and most felt a longing to return someday.
“I want to go back,” Matthew Holmes said. “I miss it already.”