South Charlotte

Haitian woman returns to help her people

Almost a year ago, Sonia Godbey, 56, watched the television as the events surrounding the earthquake in Haiti unfolded.

The reporter stood amidst the rubble breaking the latest news in an area that Godbey recognized as the neighborhood surrounding the Good Shepherd orphanage where she grew up.

She worried for the children that lived there in Carrefour, a suburb of Port-au-Prince, doubting their ability to survive such devastation.

To Godbey's relief, most all survived, except one child, who was attending school in downtown Port-au-Prince. Churches from the United States that help to support the orphanage are now in the process of rebuilding and renovating.

Godbey went to live at the orphanage when she was 6 years old and never saw her parents again, a fact that can still bring tears to her eyes.

Despite the sadness of the situation, she made a family at Good Shepherd.

"I have 50 brothers and sisters," said Godbey.

She maintains contact with some, but they have scattered as adults, some remaining in Haiti, others relocating to various parts of the world.

Good Shepherd is also where she met her husband of 37 years, Don, when he visited the orphanage with a missionary friend living in Haiti.

Godbey was 20 at the time and, with Don Godbey, has made her own family, which has grown from two daughters into a larger family that includes son-in-laws, a grandson and another grandchild on the way.

This past summer, Godbey and her husband traveled back to Haiti on a mission trip with her church, Carmel Baptist, in conjunction with the North Carolina Baptist Men, and found herself on a mission of a different kind: A mission to build a community center in the remote mountain village of Germaine.

While her husband worked on construction, Godbey traveled with a medical team up into the mountains and crossed a river without a bridge to Germaine.

"The car could barely cross," said Godbey.

When they arrived, she and the team attended to the medical needs of adults and children, administering medicine and care under a tent, the only structure in the village.

"We saw miracles," she said.

She also saw people in need.

"The people up there had nothing," said Godbey. When Godbey learned from the local pastor that worship services were conducted under the same hot tent where they were administering to the needs of the sick, she made a promise.

"I told him 'we are going to build you a church here,' " said Godbey, immediately unsure of how she would accomplish such a feat.

"I told him 'it will happen,' " she said. Carmel Baptist is also supporting her efforts.

The project has since evolved into a building that will not only house a church, but will also serve as a school and medical clinic, in essence a community center for the town of Germaine.

On a hot afternoon in late September, Godbey opened her garage and, with donations from others and items from her house, had a garage sale that raised $2,100 for the Haitian project.

"Every time I saw someone buy my stuff, I came inside and got more to put outside," Godbey said as she laughed.

This is not the first time Godbey has done this.

Although she has been a resident of the United States for 36 years, and a citizen for almost 20, she still tries to help the country she left behind.

In the past, she and her husband raised money to build a church in Jacmel, where her brother is the pastor. They also raised money for a school in another small mountain village where a friend who lived with her at Good Shepherd is director.

Dan Miller, the trip leader for the mission trip to Haiti, called Sonia and Don Godbey "wonderful people."

Miller also commented on Godbey's "warm heart." "She has such a sweet spirit," he said.

Miller continues to work with a coordinator in Haiti to determine the logistics for the site in Germaine.

Here in the United States, Godbey, and others at Carmel Baptist continue to raise funds for the Haitian people and reach out to those in need.