PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — What do you do when you are petrified driving through the streets of Port-au-Prince, even on a Sunday?
You find an LDS meetinghouse.
And fellowship with them.
And, oh yeah, introduce an investigator to the members.
That's what three returned LDS missionaries, also members of Utah Haiti Relief, did. I went along with Brady Anderton, 40, of Austin, Texas; Adam Wade, 25, of St. George; and Tyler Corbridge, 32, of Las Vegas, whose father, Elder Lawrence E. Corbridge, serves in the First Quorum of the Seventy. Elder Corbridge and his wife, Jacque, oversee the Chile region for the church.
Yet, my returned missionary friends provided me with my own "mini" mission. Little did I know how this experience would overcome me.
When we arrived at the Croix Des Bouquet Ward, we found the church members pristinely dressed. Almost immaculate. Unlike the TV images of Haiti that bombarded us back home, or what we found on the streets of Port-au-Prince or in orphanages.
"These people have been devastated, some living in tents, yet they are there in their clean white shirts, crisp and ironed," Corbridge said.
Anderton couldn't have been more right when he said, "They live in a broken system but they are not broken."
The church grounds, although small, had a tall brick fence surrounding them. On top of the fence was rolled barbed wire. There were black bars on the church's windows and doors. The small parking lot, maybe eight parking stalls, had its locked gate open.
"I felt like I was home the second we entered those gates," Wade said. "The chapel was like a rose among thorns."
With 30 minutes left of the service, we were able to join in song, even though three out of four of us didn't understand the words.
"I was mesmerized by their voices and by their smiles," Anderton said. "I felt completely at home," Wade said.
"They sing like they mean it — I have traveled the world and have never heard singing like I did in this chapel — it came from inside of them," added Corbridge. "It suggests strength and devotion to God notwithstanding the devastation and trial they are encountering. It suggests peace and optimism, too. Their faces show it. They are bright and smiling."
Anderton, who served in the second to last mission to Haiti from 1989-91 before it was closed by the LDS Church and had studied up on his Haitian Creole and French prior to embarking on this relief tour, was one of our translators in addition to our Haitian escort, Ryupert. Ryupert led the way to this ward building on a motorbike from the Port-au-Prince Airport with our overflowing truckload and covered supplies following closely behind.
"When I met briefly with the bishop and his counselor — he didn't ask for help," said Anderton. "He was only grateful that we were there. He said that the church organization had been a stabilizing force after the quake and that it had brought them even closer together as a community."
The Haitian LDS members hugged, laughed and even cried with us. The spirit was just as strong as the day I was baptized in the Okinawa Serviceman's Branch in Japan.
Overcome with emotion, I broke down. Perhaps it was the not knowing on our way to the ward if our truckload of supplies was going to be ambushed, or at the very worst our group, or even what our return trip back through the streets of Port-au-Prince would bring combined with the sheer faith, happiness and humility of these members.
But we exchanged names with the Haitians, phone numbers, e-mail and home addresses.
And the children even "…[lit] up just for a piece of gum," said Corbridge, alluding to the four pounds of bubble gum we had brought along.
Then came the myriad pictures, including group shots. Most of the members stayed for the photos. "The people were beautiful," said Wade.
"We complain back home about the economy and political situation — 'The sky is falling' — and then you come here and realize there is precious little in this world that really matters and these people encapsulate perfectly what it is that really matters," said Corbridge.
That afternoon in Port-au-Prince, three returned missionaries provided me with a "mini" mission, which I will never forget and be forever grateful for.
"I think the takeaway from this whole experience," said Anderton, "is just that — you gotta jump in and just do something and stop talking about it."
"To be in Haiti and see those members as happy as they were just a month after the quake was an enormous example to me of what brings true happiness," wrote Wade in an e-mail to me after arriving home.
"The whole incident was an inspired one," said Corbridge.
As I hopped into our moving truck that Sunday afternoon, I could only think, as the Haitians waved goodbye, not wanting us to leave and vice versa, of the LDS hymn, "God Be With You Till We Meet Again," and of my gratitude to my returned missionary friends and St. George Internet business and a self-made millionaire, Jeremy Johnson, who made my trip to Haiti a dream come true.
Back home in Utah, I received a call from Port-au-Prince. It was Ryupert, our Haitian driver who had escorted us through the streets of Port-au-Prince to the Croix Des Bouquet Ward.
"When are you coming back?"
"Soon," I said. "Very, very soon."
"Thank you," he said.
No, thank you, Ryupert.
To help with Haitian relief efforts, go to Utah Haiti Relief at www.utahhaitirelief.org/.
Cynthia Kimball Humphreys is a professional speaker and trainer. She writes a column for weekly newspapers in southern Utah and is a southern Utah correspondent for Deseret News. She can be reached at [email protected]. Her column, "GR8NESS," appears on deseretnews.com monthly. e-mail: [email protected]