As Courtney Renshaw comforts her father, Patrick, at the pulpit of the Christ (Mertz) Evangelical Lutheran Church of Dryville, it is clear their recent trip to Haiti has made a deep emotional impact on them both.
'I was there for a reason,' the elder Renshaw said. 'We were there to change the world but after that, the world changed us.'
While Renshaw, his daughter and 12 other members of their church are back home and safe after their rescue from earthquake-ravaged Haiti, they continue to think about the country and the people they left behind.
'After the earthquake, a lot of us wanted to go home because we were scared. But part of me was like, I want to go home and see my family, but another part of me wanted to stay and help. It was really bittersweet,' Courtney said.
Courtney, 20, from Mertztown and currently a student of Alvernia College, joined her fellow missionaries this past Sunday and reflected on their traumatic visit and rescue from the country devastated by the Jan. 12 magnitude 7.0 earthquake.
'The first night after the earthquake, we slept outside because of the danger of aftershocks. The stars that night in the sky were so beautiful, and part of me felt that it might've been because of the earlier [earthquake] experience. But you don't realize something like that until later.
'We were all laying there and the 450 kids at the school next door started to sing. They sang all night in Creole, and it was beautiful, just beautiful. That experience plays in a loop in my head,' Courtney said.
Many wearing t-shirts that said, 'Every generation has a chance to change the world' from a song by the band U2, Courtney and the others said they have reason to focus on the positive after living through the horrors of a quake that has devastated the small, Latin American country.
'They need our help now more than ever' was the resounding theme.
In the midst of a missionary trip that began Jan. 9, the group members, there to assist in the revitalization of an orphanage and school, were at their compound, Hope House, and cleaning up from a long day of work when the tremors began.
Lauren Williams, 20, of Oley and a student at Shippensburg University, was at the back of a small building with three other members of her group when the quake began.
'I heard shaking on the roof that got louder. My natural instinct was to run and I fell onto a motorcycle. When I got up, I ran between a building and a banana tree and saw Pat [Renshaw], Josh [Christman] and Sara [Trupp] and I grabbed onto a wash pole with them. The shaking lasted about 50 seconds.'
Williams' next instinct was to check on the other members of her group, which included Pastor Cheryl Meinschein, Rosemary Drey, Meagan Trupp, Aaron Messersmith, Linda Baker-Messersmith, Fay Marko, Toni Markey, Ruth Hertzog and Emily Behm, all of whom were, thankfully, unhurt.
After the quake, the group began setting up outdoor living quarters on the compound grounds where for the next several days they remained confined. The compound was located about eight miles outside the capital city of Port-au-Prince.
Recounting that time together, Christman talked about playing cards visiting with the schoolchildren. He and the others also spoke about the resiliency and caring nature of the Haitian people, sharing how people they barely knew had walked hours to check on the group, including the president of the school they were there to assist.
But all agreed the trip had changed their lives. Even when they discovered their Jan. 15 return flight had been canceled, none had an overwhelming sense of fear, knowing they were being prayed for and already believing God was in their corner.
'We knew people back home were praying for us. God was there with us,' Meinschein said.
Courtney admitted safety was an issue for the Americans, known by Haitians as 'blancs' and believed to have money and amenities that others did not.
'We had a lot of food and water where we were because we were at the site where missionaries come and stay and people knew we were there and why we were there. I was concerned a little bit but not to an extravagant point,' she said.
Several days after the quake, the group was notified by the director of Hope House that their insurance company had hired a rescue unit, and on Jan.16 an armed five-member rescue team arrived at the compound to bring the group home.
The team, made up of an ex-Navy Seal and two former Green Berets, was hired by Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company of Fort Wayne, Ind., and was dispatched by Global Rescue, an emergency evacuation and rescue group that operates out of Boston.
At 5 a.m. on Jan. 17 - a Sunday - the church members boarded a 19-seat chartered plane and flew to the Dominican Republic, where they spent two days resting. The group returned to American soil on Jan. 19.
Courtney, who has been on previous missions trips to El Salvador and the Dominican Republic, said she'd like to return to assist the struggling Haitian people. Others agreed.
'I'd go back tomorrow if I could,' Williams said.
'After the latest [6.1 magnitude] aftershock, my first thought was that I was glad it was 40 miles away from the epicenter of the first quake,' Courtney said.
'But my second thought was, 'Why does this keep happening to these people?' It's a poor country already and now it is going to take them even longer to get back on their feet.'
What can you to do help?
Donations are being accepted by the following organizations:
- The American Red Cross
American Red Cross
P.O. Box 37295
Washington, D.C. 20013
ATTN: Kim Davis
- Operation USA
3617 Hayden Ave, Suite A
Culver City, CA 90232
- Save The Children
Text "SAVE" to 20222 to donate $10 to Save the Children for Haiti
- Doctors Without Borders
Doctors Without Borders
333 7th Avenue, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10001-5004