Missionaries from Indian Run Methodist Church had to extend their trip to Haiti this month amid riots protesting presidential elections.

Missionaries from Indian Run Methodist Church had to extend their trip to Haiti this month amid riots protesting presidential elections.

Demonstrations occurred around the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince after the late November election, shutting down the airport for a few days beginning Dec. 11. Although the Dublin missionaries were not able to leave the country and the U.S. State Department issued a travel warning for Haiti, associate pastor Brian Gath said he never felt like he was in danger.

"On Wednesday (Dec. 8), demonstrations began in Port-au-Prince," he said. "We didn't know anything was different until we found out school had been canceled and several workers couldn't get into the site," he said. "They'd been stopped because protesters had erected barricades on roads across Haiti."

The 10 members of Indian Run Methodist Church arrived in Haiti on Dec. 3 and traveled to Mellier, a town close to the epicenter of the January earthquake, to work on a church.

"We worshipped with them there and worked with the community on building a church," Gath said. "It was an amazing experience to worship with these folks who have been dealing with the earthquake and see how they've dealt with it."

After demonstrations started and roads were barricaded, Gath said it was difficult to get much construction done. In their free time, the group walked around the town where only one home had been reconstructed since the earthquake.

They also played soccer with local children.

"So many people we talked to were happy and engaged in life and you might not expect that after the tragedy they had there. They're doing well despite incredibly difficult circumstances," Gath said. "We only saw in the village one home that had been rebuilt since the earthquake. These folks just don't have the resources to fund that. Despite all that, the kids were playing soccer and making it day by day."

The group was originally scheduled to leave Haiti on Saturday, Dec. 11, but couldn't make it back to Port au Prince until Saturday because of roadblocks. Gath said flights were canceled.

When the group got to the Methodist Guest House in the Port au Prince suburb Petionville on Dec. 11 to await flights, Gath said he didn't feel in danger.

"They're upset at the government, not foreigners," he said. "They were fighting what they believe was unjust."

On Sunday the group was able to go out to lunch and on Monday toured Grace Children's Hospital, giving dolls to young patients.

"Seventy percent of the facility has been destroyed by the earthquake," Gath said, adding that they talked to the hospital about future partnerships.

Even though flight plans were changing every day, Gath said, three mission members made it back home Tuesday, Dec. 14, and the rest of the team was back in Dublin on Dec. 15.

"My time away really taught me a couple of things," Gath said. "The problems facing the nation of Haiti are both immense and complex. A few people, even with limited skills, can make a real difference in the life of an individual. I left with a sense of hope because I know anybody can make a difference for anybody in that country."

While Gath said he never felt threatened, he was touched by the support offered to the families of the mission team members back home.

"We were overwhelmed with the outpouring of love and support from the community, not only for ourselves, but our families. It was a lot scarier for them than it was for us, not knowing what was going on," he said.

Despite a few difficulties, Gath said he plans to return for more mission work.

"I do look forward to going back to Haiti," he said.

jnoblit@thisweeknews.com

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