Transformed by service: Woman shares story of mission work in Haiti

When she returned from a week-long mission trip to Haiti last month, Annie Snivley realized she’d come home a changed person.

“Before I left, I thought I was pretty open and responsive to people,” said Snivley, who works as the financial development director at the Chester Family YMCA. “But, going to Haiti, I realized how guarded I was.” She learned to let her guard down more, she said, “because in Haiti, it’s not an option. You automatically do it.”

Snivley said the week-long journey came about because her mother- and father-in-law, Tom and Sharon Snivley, wanted to do a family mission trip. Snivley and her husband, Brian, agreed to go, as did her sister-in-law, Tara Gabbard, she said.

The group flew from Miami to Port-au-Prince, she said, and the scene leaving that airport was overwhelming. They were transported via tap-tap – a pickup truck with boards in the back – to a smaller airport, she said.

“That’s when we saw a lot of stuff from the earthquake,” she said. From the second airport, the family flew in “a tiny, unpressurized plane” to Port-de-Paix in northwest Haiti, she said.

From the air, the group saw the scores of blue tents that had been set up in the wake of the earthquake.

There are no landfills, she said, and there is no infrastructure for dealing with human and animal waste. Animals wander the streets unattended.

After another tap-tap ride, the group arrived in Saint-Louis-du-Nord, where it was to work with the Northwest Haiti Christian Mission. Saint-Louis-du-Nord wasn’t really affected by the earthquake, Snivley said, but about 20,000 refugees fled to the city after the disaster.

The group worked with a med-surg team, she said, and she took notes during medical procedures and exams. The doctors were as concerned with the patients spiritual health as their physical wellbeing, she said, and took time, sometimes hours, to pray with and counsel patients before surgeries.

Along with the medical mission, Northwest Haiti Christian Mission has an orphanage for children up to age 5, she said, and it housed about 25 children while she was there. The parents either dropped the babies off, or missionaries picked them up while working in the city, she said.

“Those babies are just so fun,” she said. “Basically,” a mission trip is “really going and showing people that you care.” For the children, it’s visiting, holding them and playing with them, she said.

“And the power of a smile and human touch is just huge,” she said. “When you have three workers for 25 kids, there’s only so much they can do.”

The mission also operates a retirement home, dubbed Grand Moon, she said, as well as an orphanage for children with special needs. Working with those children was “probably what touched me the most,” she said.

One girl, named Tamara, loved to walk in the rain, Snivley said, and the two went walking one day. Another girl, Rachel, had severe cerebral palsy, she said, and could do little more than eat and move her facial muscles. One of the members of the mission group had Huntington’s disease, a progressive neurodegenerative genetic disorder, Snivley said, and this group member gravitated to Rachel.

The group member told Snivley she picked Rachel because the girl had never been out of the orphanage before, and because she would be in a similar state in five years. The mission group took Rachel everywhere, Snivley said.

“She touched everyone, and so she became the favorite, by far,” she said.

Snivley said she avoided watching deliveries at the birthing center – in case it scared her out of wanting to have children – but she did get to hold babies who were less than a day old. The mission group also journeyed three hours by tap-tap to reach another orphanage, this one for older children, she said.

“They saw us and they just came running,” Snivley said. “They said, ‘You’re here to play with us. You’re here to love us.’”

The group took crayons, she said, and they played duck, duck, goose, monkey in the middle and other familiar games.

“They play just like we do,” she said. “Kids are kids wherever you go.”

In Saint-Louis-du-Nord, the mission group painted the church, she said, taking it from a “crazy blue” to a chocolate brown. Seeing the group members painting empowered the Haitians to take ownership of the project and paint, as well, she said.

As well as learning to open up more, Snivley said she “probably learned a lot more patience in Haiti.” The group sat in the second airport for more than three hours, she said, and she was

“OK with it.” That patience has stayed with her so far, she said, and she hopes that doesn’t change.

“We don’t really feel like we did that much for the Haitians,” she said. “We feel like they did more for us.”

For Snivley, the fact that the trip came during the Easter season made the experience even more meaningful.

“A big part of my relationship with God, my faith, you’re supposed to serve and take care of the poor, the orphaned, the widowed,” she said. “To actually go out and do something, that’s what it’s all about. … Easter for me is getting out of that comfort zone, and going to Haiti is kind of living that.”


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