Haiti Trip Moves Seminary Dean

Lonnie Yoder, EMS associate dean
Dr. Lonnie Yoder, associate dean

HARRISONBURG – Lonnie Yoder will long remember the story told him by a young woman from Haiti who survived the country’s horrific earthquake.

“She was a nursing student in [Haiti’s capital city of] Port-au-Prince, who survived when her school building collapsed,” Yoder said. “She talked about holding the one-year-old baby of her best friend as the baby died.”

Yoder, 59, professor of pastoral and counseling and the new associate dean at Eastern Mennonite Seminary, has an avalanche of accounts he could share from his recent visit to Haiti.

Yoder traveled as part of a group on a mission run by Mennonite Central Committee and the Virginia Mennonite Mission.

The U.S. mission also included Joe Arbaugh, a building contractor from Verona, Elizabeth Showalter, a cheese-shop worker from Stuarts Draft, and Shelly-Ann Peart James, a graduate school grad and lecturer at a seminary in Jamaica.

The group stayed at an MCC home in Port-au-Prince.

Yoder’s group spent May 17-24 in Haiti, a visit that included three days of meetings with quake victims in Port-au-Prince. The sessions were designed to help Haitians deal with grief and despair brought on by the Jan. 12 disaster by sharing their stories of the catastrophe, which claimed an estimated 230,000 lives.

The tales, Yoder said, were “incredible stories of pain, suffering and death.”

The mission of 90 participants took place at Quisqueya Chapel, an interdenominational church in the city’s northeast section. Still reeling from the quake, residents opted to gather on a lawn outside the building.

Going On With Life’

In a setting where tents serve as houses and rubble rules the landscape, Yoder and his party marveled at the locals’ unnatural grit.

“I was amazed by the ability of the Haitian people to go on with life, in spite of the incredible challenges,” he said.

“We focused on psychological and emotional issues, but this was a spiritual experience,” Yoder added.

Fellow group member Eldon Stoltzfus, a Mennonite pastor from Goshen, Ind., shared Yoder’s amazement at Haiti’s resilient people. Stoltzfus, 62, had seen such toughness in better times, when he brought his family on previous mission trips to Haiti from 1974 to 1987.

“Even before the quake, the Haitian people had gone through hundreds of years of suffering,” he said. “I was awed by their ability to put it all into the context of life – they felt blessed that they were still alive.

“So many people go to Haiti and say, ‘Is there any hope?'” Stoltzfus said. “My response is as long as there are Haitian people, there is hope. It’s going to be hard work – very hard work – but I trust that as a people they will work through that.”

Contact Tom Mitchell at 574-6275 or mitchell@dnronline.com