U.S. ministries lose workers in Haiti

| January 23, 2010

As religious relief organizations work to help the living and cope with the dying in Haiti, some faith groups are mourning deaths of their members in the recent earthquake.

Two United Methodist Church executives, a Lutheran seminarian and three Free Methodist Church missionaries died as a result of the earthquake. Other religious organizations were awaiting word about some staffers and their family members.

On Jan. 16, Bishop David Roller of the Free Methodist Church conducted a funeral at the site of the collapsed building where the Rev. Jeanne Acheson-Munos, Merle West and Gene Dufour are presumed to have died. Acheson-Munos’ husband, Jack Munos, and church volunteer Katie Zook are recovering in a Florida hospital, said Judy Litsey, a spokeswoman for Free Methodist World Missions. Munos and Acheson-Munos had been in the region five years; West and Dufour were on a short-term mission trip.

"It’s been very difficult,” Litsey said. "There were 17 people there total at the time of the earthquake. Some of them worked diligently digging by hand to free Katie and Jack.”

The Rev. Sam Dixon, leader of the United Methodist Committee on Relief, and Rev. Clinton Rabb, head of the mission volunteers office of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries, died as a result of the earthquake. They had been at meetings on health care in Port-au-Prince.

"We had a prayer service for staff … in the building, and we also are sending folks from the United Methodist Committee on Relief to Haiti as we speak,” said Chris Heckert, United Methodist global ministries board spokesman, on Tuesday. "We are doing both ends of the work, some pastoral care and healing internally as well as assessment and beginning work on the ground in Haiti.”

Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, planned to hold a memorial service Friday for Ben Larson, a 2006 alumnus presumed to have died in the quake. He was in Haiti teaching theology with his wife and cousin, fellow seminary students who survived. The building they were in collapsed.

"They were there because they love the church, and they loved what they’re doing,” said John Brooks, an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America spokesman. "And one of them I spoke to … said as far as the other two are concerned, they’re going right back to the seminary to finish their work.”

Larson was last heard singing "God’s peace to us we pray,” his wife, Renee Splichal Larson, told ELCA News Service.

In a statement, Larson’s parents, pastors April and Judd Larson, wrote: "In his young death, his life joins the bodies of the poor. In the Haitian rubble, Ben’s life joins these dear beloved people of God: all those parents crying for their children; young widows calling out for their husbands; new orphans searching for their parents. God have mercy on us.”

While some ministries are relieved that their staffers have survived and are able to help others, some are mourning the deaths of native-born workers in Haiti.

Salesian Missions, a Catholic nonprofit based in New Rochelle, N.Y., said Brother Hubert Sanon, a Haitian, died in the rubble. More than 250 schoolchildren and about 200 young women who were studying in their educational buildings at the time of the quake also died.

"The future teachers have been lost,” said Hannah Gregory, U.S. spokeswoman for the missions.

Catholic Relief Services, based in Baltimore, was trying to account for one of its 312 staffers. Most are from Haiti, and many lost relatives or immediate family members, a spokeswoman said.

Some religious organizations, including Church World Service and World Vision, are working to send teams that will include trauma specialists to help children in the region as well as relief workers.

World Vision knows 35 of its 90 Port-au-Prince staffers are back at work, spokeswoman Geraldine Ryerson-Cruz said. But they are using a search and rescue team to help look for people still missing, including their staffers.

"Tomorrow, a psycho-social team is arriving for families,” Church World Service’s Don Tatlock said Tuesday after his arrival in Port-au-Prince. "The situation is horrifying.”

 

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