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Hudson Bethel Lutheran group helps build a church in Haiti

Kristen Bobb, Alan Park, Mary Gerzmehle, Kevin Chuckel, Stephanie Chuckel and Pastor Van Bredeson, from left, pose for a photo during their March mission trip to Haiti. Photos submitted

Mary Gerzmehle remembers being told prior to her first mission trip to Jamaica more than a decade ago that she should be prepared to face three crises.

That way, she would be ready for them, and confident that God would work His will through the circumstances.

The three-crises rule proved to be true for her spring break visit to Haiti with five other members of Bethel Lutheran Church.

First, because of a flight cancellation, she and four other members of the Bethel Disaster Rebuilders landed in Haiti a day ahead of schedule, and with no hotel reservations, on March 16.

Then the orphanage where they were scheduled to work was in the midst of a power struggle with a former leader, and they couldn't stay there.

Finally, their tap tap taxi broke down on an excursion trip up a mountain.

In each case, God saw them through the crisis, Gerzmehle said.

The organization that arranged the trip, Praying Pelican Missions, found them a hotel to stay in the first night, and a new worksite.

And they were able to squeeze into two other vehicles that were part of the expedition for the rest of the drive up the mountain. The tap tap was repaired by the time they returned to it on the way down.

The trouble at the orphanage meant they returned to a Baptist congregation in Mariani, a suburb of Port-au-Prince, where the Bethel Disaster Rebuilders had helped construct a school a year earlier.

"That was in (God's) planning," Gerzmehle said when she stopped by the Star-Observer office on Good Friday morning to talk about her most recent of many mission trips.

She traveled to Haiti with Pastor Van Bredeson, Alan Park, Kristen Bobb, Stephanie Chuckel and Chuckel's son Kevin.

They were joined by four students and a pastor from a Christian college in Kansas in their work at the Mariani church/school complex. The congregation is in the midst of constructing a new building to replace their church and school that were destroyed in the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti two years ago.

The group slept on air mattresses in classrooms of a church school in Carrefour, another suburb of Port-au-Prince, and rode a tap tap to and from the worksite, a trip of about a half hour.

Most tap taps are highly decorated pickup trucks with a bench on each side that the passengers sit on. The one that transported the Bethel group didn't have the colorful paint job.

The Bethel Disaster Rebuilders brought donations for purchasing construction materials and worked as laborers for the Haitian block-layers who started building the exterior walls for a second story on the church/school building.

Gerzmehle participated in the construction of first floor a year ago. It now houses the congregation's school. The second floor will serve as the church sanctuary.

A good start was made on the second-floor walls during the Bethel group's week there, and a group of Americans that followed them the next week saw the walls nearly completed.

Much of what the Bethel members did was serve in a line that passed cement blocks and buckets of mortar to the masons.

"Our donation went to buy materials to work with. The block. The cement. And that's basically the materials we work with," Gerzmehle said.

The common reason that building projects stall in Haiti is a lack of money to buy materials, she said.

"Money. That's the big hold-up on everything right now in Haiti," she said.

Gerzmehle, the school secretary at E.P. Rock Elementary, credits former Bethel Lutheran Pastor Joanne Sorenson with getting the congregation involved in mission work.

Gerzmehle participated in that first trip to Jamaica and has been going on working vacations ever since.

She traveled to Jamaica eight years in a row to help with the construction of schools and orphanages. She's also visited Bethel's sister church in Iringa, Tanzania.

Alan Park and Gerzmehle have taken the lead in arranging mission trips since Pastor Sorenson left for Trinity Lutheran Church in Fall Creek, Wis.

Park works in the parts department at Hudson Chrysler, and now has a part-time job with Praying Pelican Missions, an organization that makes arrangements for U.S. church groups to do service work in the Caribbean and Central America.

He was in Miami with a group of high school students working with the Haitian and Jamaican communities there when Gerzmehle talked to the Star-Observer.

"This sounds really simple, and maybe kind of trite, but (it's) because we can," Gerzmehle replied when asked why she helps organize the mission trips. "We've been blessed with resources here. That's what we're called to do -- to go and do what we can."

She continued: "I know people say, what can one person do -- and it is very difficult for one person to make any progress. But if you join up with two or three or four or five or six, it's amazing what can be accomplished.

"We're not going to solve all the problems in Haiti, but for that small community that we're working in, that church and school is going to make a significant difference. It gives kids a place to go to school. And if we weren't there, they wouldn't have a place to go to school."

Tears welled up in Gerzmehle's eyes as she spoke.

She said the joy she sees in the faces of the people she serves is her reward.

"When you're working at your job, and you have a family, and you're involved in church work, you're emptying, emptying, emptying," Gerzmehle said. "I go on these to be refilled."

She said she was heartened to see progress in the rebuilding of Haiti on this trip. The garbage and rubble piles were mostly gone from the streets, along with the tent cities. New houses have been built and road construction is under way.

"They have a long ways to go, but progress is being made," she said.

Gerzmehle describes Haitians as "beautiful, beautiful people."

"They are so grateful for anything that we can do, and we have done. They are so welcoming. They're so hospitable. We just have fun with them, and language is not a barrier," she said.

The Haitians speak Creole, a combination of French and African languages.

"It makes the world so much smaller," Gerzmehle said of her mission experiences. "You realize that people around the world are just like us. We look different. We speak a different language, be we are all the family of God."

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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