Winter break for most students at Lipscomb is a time for relaxing, vacationing or celebrating the holidays with family, but there was a special group of students that have served our country in significant ways here at home and overseas who took a different approach to their Christmas Break. Lipscomb Missions and the University’s Yellow Ribbon Program brought the passions of their programs together to send eight veterans on a week-long mission trip to Haiti in partnership with Nashville-based ministry Mission Lazarus. Student-veterans, who not long ago were on the frontlines of our military, found themselves a week out from Christmas Day in the midst of a mission trip to a location none of them had ever been to and with a University that few had ever heard of until given the chance to further pursue their education.
Jim Humphrey, Director of the Yellow Ribbon Program, explains how the veterans' mission trip stemmed from the approach of the program to maintain the focus of veteran service on the transition of the vets from military service to college and civilian life. “It provides an opportunity for the individual veteran student to spiritually grow and capitalize on an existing desire to serve others, the same spirit that often drove them to success in their military service,” says Humphrey.
Serving others is not unfamiliar territory to these eight student-veterans. Three of the four branches of military were represented on the team that was comprised of two members of the Air Force, two members of the Army, three Marines and one daughter of a veteran. Having experienced deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years, they felt trained and equipped for the mission ahead, but not prepared for the poverty they were about to witness firsthand.
Team Leader and VA Certifying Official April Herrington says, “The jokes on one another were endless as we constantly ragged on each other’s branch of service. However, it was the dry sense of humor and common goal that brought us all together.” Multiple members of the team shared in the realization that they had never planned to be in Haiti. They acknowledged that God was the one with the plan to bring them all to that place. All differing branches of service aside, this team had something major in common, a heart of servitude. This allowed them to become close despite their banter.
The team spent the week partnering with Mission Lazarus to build a house in the Canaan III section of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The home was constructed for a widow who was living with her three daughters and her grandson. The family’s previous home was a tent with a dirt floor, so to say that this house was a blessing for them would be an understatement. As the team was finishing the work on the house, they got a surprise. The sweet widow who this new home belonged to presented the team with little souvenir items, bottles of coke, and packages of crackers. They knew that this had to be a big sacrifice for the woman, but it was not until later that they found out that the gesture had possibly cost her several months worth of wages. Thanks to this team of veterans, this woman and her family have a concrete block house with a door and a roof and she was immensely grateful.
After the finishing touches were done and the house was complete, another beautiful moment occurred. Some of the members of the team’s partner church in Canaan III joined in blessing the house. The combined group of Haitians and military veterans sang songs of praise giving all the glory to God. A box was filled with the names of the people who want to receive a new home through Mission Lazarus. The names were prayed over and one of the members of the Lipscomb team, Ben Maenza, got the honors of drawing a name. Everyone was ecstatic and joyful when the new recipient’s name was drawn and they came forward. Larry Musick, Trip Coordinator for Mission Lazarus, reflected on the moment, “It's as though they had won millions of dollars. To us, it's a simple house that we constructed in a few days. To them it's an opportunity to live in a dwelling that is much more impervious to wind and rain. It is a home with a cement foundation instead of a dirt floor; it has four solid walls instead of a fabric tent. It was evident they saw it as a blessing from God.”
It is no surprise that these events really touched the lives of the veterans who participated in this trip. They were given a great opportunity and whether or not it was planned, took it and were blessed because of it. As someone who is continually pouring himself into leading groups into Haiti on behalf of Mission Lazarus, Musick recalls how he was greatly encouraged by this special collection of veterans who come from a diverse background of service and faith in how they wanted to then bless him. “We were in the Miami airport awaiting our connecting flight to Nashville and then I found myself surrounded by all eight of them as they asked if they could pray for me and our ministry. It was a humbling moment.”
As He usually does, it seemed that God worked in more ways than one over the course of this trip. Tonight, there is a family in Haiti that is sleeping more soundly. Tomorrow (or in a few weeks), there will be another house on the way.
Even though their trip is now a month in the rearview mirror, they continue to share their story as they faithfully tackle their fundraising efforts. If you wish to financially partner with the Haiti Vets team, please contact Jim.Humphrey@lipscomb.edu.