By Lee Chottiner
To hear Pastor Adam Mick describe it, traveling to Gelin—a village in the earthquake-riddled, disease-stricken Caribbean nation of Haiti—is a little like trekking to Timbuktu.
Seven Wheeling area residents recently found that out for themselves. They rode a Land Rover for 7½ hours from the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, bouncing along rocky mountain roads, parts of which are better described as cow paths.
After that trip, they still had to hike for another 1½ hours since there is no road at all leading to the village.
They made this journey so they could help people who are terribly cut off from the rest of the world help themselves.
This group was the second in as many years from the Covenant Community Church (C3) to visit Gelin. It spent one week there, from Oct. 3 to 10, as part of a growing “sister church” relationship with the village. That relationship means clean water, a new school and other necessities for the remote community.
C3 members Pat and Barb Ball, Teracyn Rich, Taylor McClusky, Rich Pellarin and Wayne Hawthorne joined Mick on the recent mission.
The problems Gelin faces are far from unique in Haiti—the oldest black republic in the world (it won its independence in 1804), and the poorest nation in the western hemisphere.
The country still hasn’t recovered from the devastating earthquake of 2010. To compound its woes, a subsequent cholera epidemic swept the country, and a drought is now in its fifth month.
“It’s really a torn country, in every sense of the word,” said Mick, who just returned from Haiti. “The differences between the mountains and the city are almost day and night.”
Port-au-Prince, only now barely recovering from the earthquake, is still a dangerous place. Homeowners live behind walls 20-30 feet high and topped with ragged edge bottles (they can’t afford barbed wire), while guards toting AK-47s protect orphanages and schools.
“The whole city is like a security compound,” Mick said.
The countryside is even worse. In Gelin, the people are beautiful, friendly and humble, according to Mick, yet there isn’t a single household that hasn’t lost a child or a parent to disease or natural disasters. And young girls must still tote potable water for miles.
Yet despite these grim accounts, C3 has committed itself to Haiti, or at least a little piece of it.
Last year, 12 C3 members, led by Mick, delivered 450 simple water filtration devices to the village—one for each household. On this most recent trip, the seven-member mission brought another 425 filters for a neighboring village, then returned to Gelin to help the residents as they build a school, a cistern and to lay pipe to a nearby stream.
“We have adopted the village of Gelin and two to three visits a year will be planned,” Mick said. “They won’t all be water-related. We don’t want to tell them what their needs are; we want to find out what their needs are, then meet them as we are able.”
How it started
The idea for partnering with Gelin didn’t occur overnight. It’s part of a four-year-long process that began shortly after Mick, 35, originally from Scottsdale, Ariz., moved to Wheeling with his wife and kids so they could help Mick’s sister-in-law care for her mother.
The first step in the process came in 2012 when Mick, looking for opportunities to help college kids connect with the world, organized the Dirty Water Walk, an activity in which approximately 40 participants lugged jugs of water for up to six miles along the Ohio River. The purpose, he said was “to help us relate to young girls around the world who have to walk five, six, seven miles a day just to get clean drinking water.”
Not long after that, C3 joined an effort with its co-pastor, Tim Orr, to raise money to dig seven water wells in northwest Kenya. They raised more than $40,000 in one month.
By then, C3 members had decided they wanted to become more directly involved in relief work abroad. Kenya was too far to be feasible, Mick said, so after a little research, the church settled on Haiti.
The church works with Impact for Jesus, a not-for-profit, donor-supported organization that supports relief work in Haiti. It has been sponsoring the clean water project there since the earthquake, through which C3 has been delivering water filtration devices to remote areas.
Those devices are simple and low-tech, by the way. They consist of a filter, a hose and a bucket, which clean the water through a gravity-fed process. If the unit is properly maintained, Mick said, “it will save a family’s life for 10 years.”
Impact for Jesus also runs soccer camps for Haitian kids, provides food to people still living in tent cities and construction materials to help Haitians rebuild their country.
Sister churches/sister cities?
It’s understandable why Mick described C3’s relationship with Gelin as that of “sister churches.” Gelin has no governmental structure to speak of other than its nondenominational church and pastor.
But he would like the relationship to grow beyond the churches, at least in Wheeling.
“We don’t want it to be just C3,” Mick said. “Anybody can participate in this.” In fact, he warmed to the suggestion that Wheeling and Gelin become sister cities. “I love that idea,” he said.
It’s not a new idea, though. In Pittsburgh, the local Jewish community developed a relationship with a city in Israel, called Karmiel, through a program called Partnership 2000. Before long, Pittsburgh and Karmiel adopted each other as sister cities.
There is more than one way to build a Wheeling-Gelin partnership. One way is to work through Sister Cities International, the nonprofit organization that serves as the national membership catalyst for sister cities across the United States. But Wheeling would have to be a member in good standing of SCI.
There are benefits to membership.
“The two most useful benefits utilized by our members are staff assistance and networking,” SCI Membership Coordinator Shakarra McGuire said in response to questions emailed by Dateline: Wheeling. “Our staff has worked with hundreds of partnerships around the U.S. and the world and can provide advice on everything from governance to programming to fundraising and most things in between.
“We also are a strong peer networker, and often will connect a local program with another U.S. community that can share its experiences and best practices in whatever area the other city is exploring,” she continued. “We’ve also cultivated very good relationships with the U.S. State Department and Foreign Service officers (both from the U.S. and abroad) and use these connections to help our members.”
Wheeling has no sister city, according to Mayor Andy McKenzie. The city did have one years ago in Eastern Europe, he said, but the relationship did not continue.
“This is something I always wanted to do, but never did,” McKenzie said. “I think it could create a great opportunity [for Wheeling].”
Another way would be for the Wheeling city council to pass a resolution adopting Gelin. It would be a symbolic step, but C3 could use it to promote a city- and countywide connection to the village.
Either way, Mick would welcome a deeper Wheeling connection to Gelin.
“We’re going to move forward with our mission,” he said, “but if other missions or people want to brainstorm with us, by all means. Anything that would have a greater impact for these people, we’re all ears.”
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