Two Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) missionaries in Haiti and mission teams from three PC(USA) congregations that were in the country when the devastating earthquake struck Tuesday (Jan. 12) have been accounted for.

The Haitian Red Cross estimated today (Jan. 14) that between 45,000 and 50,000 died in the late-afternoon 7.3-magnitude temblor that struck near the Haitian capital of Port au Prince. Much of the country, particularly areas around Port au Prince are totally destroyed. 

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance has dispatched $100,000 from One Great Hour of Sharing offering funds and issued a special appeal to support ongoing relief efforts. The crisis response team of Presbyterian World Mission is meeting at the Presbyterian Center here virtually around-the-clock.

PC(USA) missionary Mark Hare is safe and uninjured. Sharyn Babe sustained leg and back injuries in the quake and has been medically-evacuated to Cuba.

Three PC(USA) mission teams who were in Haiti when the quake hit have also reported that they are safe.

A 20-member mission team from Lawrenceville (N.J.) Presbyterian Church arrived in Haiti just hours before the quake for a previously arranged medical mission trip  scheduled to run from Jan. 12-17. The group, which included three doctors, made its way to the U.S. embassy in Port au Prince, Mark Smith told the Presbyterian News Service Wednesday evening (Jan. 13).

A group from First Presbyterian Church in Atlanta have also reported that they are okay. That group was serving on La Gonave island, just off the coast of Port-au-Prince. In an email to Presbyterian World Mission Director Hunter Farrell late Wednesday night, pastor Georg Wirth wrote: “the mission group is safe and secure with food and water … and they are working alongside our Haitian mission partners to help them navigate through this disaster. They are working on a plan to come home, but the mainland airport is jammed with Americans trying to get out of the country, so our folks are not in a hurry and will pursue other exit routes through the Dominican Republic or perhaps Jamaica if they can secure a prop plane to pick them up on the LaGonave beach airstrip.”

A third group, from Warrenton (Va.) Presbyterian Church, has informed their pastor, the Rev. Carl Schmal, that they, too, are okay. “They are at Terrier Rouge on the north coast and at the moment are all well and accounted for,” Schmal wrote. “They did feel the earthquake, but since they are about 70 miles from Port au Prince the damage there is much less extensive than further south. Their return home later this week may be problematic due to the extensive damage to the airport in Port au Prince, however I believe that flights are arriving and departing from Cape Haitian which is near them.”

Two former PC(USA) mission volunteers in Haiti who currently serve on a hospital board there — Rob and Donna Martsolf — were in the country at the time of the quake. They, too, have been heard from and are safe.

Some accounts out of Haiti are terrifying. Former PC(USA) missionary Rodney Babe — spouse of Sharyn — was delayed going to a meeting in a hotel in Port au Prince Tuesday afternoon. The quake destroyed the hotel, killing the two men with whom Babe was scheduled to meet.

Reports also indicate that the Presbyterian mission hospital in Leogane was completely destroyed.

Lionel Derenoncourt, a Haiti native who serves as associate for international hunger concerns in the Presbyterian Hunger Program, has heard from most of his relatives in the country except for a 90-year-old aunt.
Sara Lisherness, director of Compassion, Peace and Justice for the General Assembly Mission Council, told a gathering of deployed staff this morning (Jan. 14) that an international assessment team, under the auspices of Geneva-based ACT International will arrive in Haiti today to begin coordination of the ecumenical response to the tragedy. PDA disaster specialist Carlos Cardenas is part of that team.

“The need is overwhelming, Lisherness said. “My heart is breaking for Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world,” she said.

Though many Presbyterians are eager to go to Haiti to help hands-on, Lisherness said the best response right now is financial support. “Every person that travels to Haiti right now will need food, water and shelter and there is none of that, even for the Haitians, right now.”

Lisherness said the response by Presbyterians to the disaster has been overwhelming. So many people are wanting to help that the banks’ systems are frequently overloaded,” she said. Presbyterians wishing to contribute can call PresbyTel — (800) 872-3283 — and contribute over the phone by using a credit card.  

In their Jan. 13 message to the church General Assembly Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons, General Assembly Moderator Bruce Reyes-Chow and General Assembly Mission Council Executive Director Linda Valentine asked “all concerned people to do their part to stand in the G.A.P.  Give. Act. Pray.”:

Give — Financial support for relief efforts can be designated to DR000064. Your gifts, combined with others, provide a visible and tangible demonstration of God’s care in the midst of this tragedy. Recovery will be a difficult and long process, but Presbyterian Disaster Assistance has time and time again modeled a faithful response over the long haul.

Act — Congregations and individuals can put together hygiene kits to be distributed through Church World Service. For information, visit the PDA home page.

Pray — Join with others in lifting up the people of Haiti and those seeking to provide aid in this critical time. As the eyes of the world turn to Haiti, let us join our hearts in prayer:

We pray for Haiti
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
As the eyes of the world turn to Haiti, let us join our hearts in prayer:
God of compassion
Please watch over the people of Haiti,
And weave out of these terrible happenings
wonders of goodness and grace.
Surround those who have been affected by tragedy
With a sense of your present love,
And hold them in faith.
Though they are lost in grief,
May they find you and be comforted;
Guide us as a church
To find ways of providing assistance
that heals wounds and provides hope
Help us to remember that when one of your children suffer
We all suffer
Through Jesus Christ who was dead, but lives
and rules this world with you. Amen.
(Adapted from Book of Common Worship)

A special Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) account has been established to receive donations for immediate relief work in Haiti. Contribute through local church channels, or call PresbyTel at (800) 872-3283 or visit the PDA Web site to make credit card donations. The account number is "Haiti - DR000064."

Noted Presbyterian hymn-writer Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, co-pastor with her husband Bruce of Limestone Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, DE — as she has on other occasions of national and international trauma — has penned a hymn for use by Presbyterian congregations as they respond to the tragedy in Haiti:

In Haiti, There is Anguish
ST. CHRISTOPHER (“Beneath the Cross of Jesus”)

In Haiti, there is anguish that seems too much to bear;
A land so used to sorrow now knows even more despair.
From city streets, the cries of grief rise up to hills above;
In all the sorrow, pain and death, where are you, God of love?

A woman sifts through rubble, a man has lost his home,
A hungry, orphaned toddler sobs, for she is now alone.
Where are you, Lord, when thousands die — the rich, the poorest poor?
Were you the very first to cry for all that is no more?

O God, you love your children; you hear each lifted prayer!
May all who suffer in that land know you are present there.
In moments of compassion shown, in simple acts of grace,
May those in pain find healing balm, and know your love’s embrace.

Where are you in the anguish?   Lord, may we hear anew
That anywhere your world cries out, you’re there — and suffering, too.
And may we see, in others’ pain, the cross we’re called to bear;
Send out your church in Jesus’ name to pray, to serve, to share.  

Tune:  Frederick Charles Maker, 1881
Text:  Text: Copyright © 2010 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette.  All rights reserved.  Permission is given for use by those who support Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.

Information for this story came from a variety of sources. Presbyterian News Service is grateful for the collaboration between Presbyterian World Mission, Compassion, Peace and Justice Ministries, Communications and Funds Development and the congregations and presbyteries in Lawrenceville, N.J. (New Brunswick Presbytery), Warrenton, Va. (Shenandoah Presbytery) and Atlanta (Greater Atlanta Presbytery) involved in mission in Haiti.