Church helping the hungry in Haiti

The dire e-mails started coming two Thursdays ago.

After a string of tropical storms and hurricanes, the bridge that linked the town of Bayonnais to the rest of Haiti, was gone, Pastor Amilor Fils-Aime wrote to his friends at Myers Park United Methodist Church.

The roads were washed away, with sinkholes big enough to swallow a truck.

There was no food in a region already familiar with misery.

“Their part of Haiti is forgotten; they have no electricity, no water, no government,” Kevin Wright, the Charlotte church's missions minister, said Sunday. “Without a bridge, they were completely cut off. The storms smashed their crops, and took their livestock.”

“These are people who were already malnourished and they hadn't had anything to eat in a week. We were racing against the clock.”

Wright and his senior minister, James Howell, began calling anyone who could help – mission agencies, politicians and relief organizations.

Their only hope was to get food in by air – by helicopter.

One aviation fellowship put Wright in touch with a relief group that owned helicopters and were moving several to Haiti.

Myers Park Methodist had worked with Bayonnais for six years, sending members there to build houses and put a roof on a school. Three weeks earlier, Wright had gone to the remote town to discuss sending a team of doctors and nurses.

“We had made friends there,” he said.

So the church spent $12,000 to rent a helicopter and pilot – and buy 100-pound bags of rice and beans. Missionary Flights International donated high-protein meal packets.

Wright and David Nichols of Charlotte, U.S. coordinator for Fils-Aime's ministry and a member of South Mecklenburg Presbyterian Church, flew to Port-au-Prince.

From there, they flew in two tons of food to the people of Bayonnais, an area of 60,000 to 80,000 people in a valley between two mountains.

The town is so remote, no one there had ever seen a helicopter. By satellite e-mail, set up by Engineers Without Borders, Wright and Nichols prepared Fils-Aime for what he was about to experience.

The pastor alerted his town to the “big noise in the sky.”

By then, Wright and Nichols were on the back of a truck speeding to the helicopter along rutted roads.

“Taxis and motorcycles were cutting us off, but I had such a joy at that moment,” Wright said. “I thought, ‘This is my day job and it couldn't get any better than this.'”

About 8 a.m. Friday, Wright and the pilot landed with the first 600 pounds of food on a fenced-in soccer field.

“There were about 1,000 people there to meet us: elderly men, teenagers, women, children – all cheering, clapping and praising God,” Wright said. “Some were crying. They thought they'd been forgotten and were resigned to give up.”

Fils-Aime ran to embrace Wright. “You must really love us to bring this food,” Wright said the pastor told him.

Children smiled for the first time in days, holding out tin pails for food. Along the fence, they shouted: “Merci. Merci.”

It took eight trips to deliver all the food.

Wright flew back to Charlotte Sunday, packing memories he won't soon forget.

“When you go over and experience something like that, part of you stays there,” he said. “That's good; it's the only way true friendship evolves and flourishes. And yet you carry a wound with you, because you know there's still a community that has a long way to go toward recovery.”