Mission trip to Haiti challenges LCA ninth graders

mmeehan1@herald-leader.comMay 16, 2014 

  • The history of Christian Flights

    Christian Flights doesn't have planes. In fact, it's been decades since it focused on private missions in personal planes.

    But the name has stuck, well, because "we just never changed it," said Dr. Raymond Jackson, an emergency room doctor and president of the Kentucky-based nonprofit.

    Four civilian pilots started Christian Flights International in 1977, he said. Originally, they flew missions all over, from the Bahamas to Jamaica to Peru. By 1986, when Jackson took over as president, the mission work had focused on a Ranquitte, Haiti.

    Christian Flights averages 10 to 12 missions a year, Jackson said. More than $3 million has been invested in the Haitian community of about 20,000. That includes money spent on building schools, a medical clinic, 24 drinking wells, new homes and creating an agricultural program.

    The group has helped to build and support an elementary school and a high school, Jackson said. That involves not only construction, he said, but the development of teachers and leaders within the community.

    The current mayor of Ranquitte, George Derval, was part of Christian Flights' leadership program.

    "He is definitely a success story," said Jackson, who works at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Lexington.

    Jackson said getting students from Lexington Christian Academy involved with the mission work was "a very good thing." He has taken his children and his grandchildren on mission trips.

    "It gives them a bigger vision of what Christ is doing," he said. Plus, with young people, "it can change their entire career choice."

    For more information on Christian Flights International, call (859) 262-9200 or go to ChristianFlights.org.

    Mary Meehan

  • Tell us about your summer mission trip

    Summers aren't all about traveling for leisure. Many Central Kentucky faith groups organize mission trips for which members volunteer their time and service to medical clinics, shut-ins, underprivileged children and more.

    If your group is taking a mission trip, we'd like you to share a photo with us and the Herald-Leader's readers.

    Send us one photo — only one photo, please — and tell us where you went, when you were there and what group you represented. Also, feel free to tell us about the trip in no more than 100 words.

    Please identify everyone in the photo from left to right. (It's better, obviously, not to send a huge group photo but rather a picture of a small group of people doing volunteer work.)

    You must include your name, address and a daytime phone number.

    Send the photo in an attachment in an email to sscherer1@herald-leader.com (it should be in JPEG format, at least 3 MB in size and the full image file). Please write mission trip in the subject line. The deadline for submission is Aug. 15, and photos will be published in late August or early September.

At first, the reality of mission work in another country left some of the Lexington Christian Academy student volunteers less than thrilled.

Gracie Schafer was freaked out by the super-size mosquitoes. Kyle Price noted there was a live goat tied to the roof of the bus that the group took from the airport to its destination.

When the group arrived in Ranquitte, Haiti, there were hot days, cold showers, hard work and a level of poverty that was difficult to take in.

But there also were friendships forged, challenges meet and lives changed.

"I realized I wasn't there to be comfortable," said Gracie, a ninth-grader who adjusted to the bugs but still maintains she is not a fan of "wildlife." "I just felt like God was calling me to help."

Like hundreds of kids in Central Kentucky, Kyle, Gracie and six other students from LCA made a mission trip during spring break this year.

"We put up a flier, and I had lots of students that jumped at the opportunity," said teacher Kevin Conforti, who led the trip, sponsored by the Kentucky nonprofit Christian Flights International. It was the first time LCA students went on a trip sponsored by the group.

Each of the eight students raised money to cover the cost of his or her trip, Conforti said. Some baby-sat, others made and sold crafts, or got jobs to cover the $1,750 cost.

They got the school involved by speaking to other students about the mission trip and encouraging them to make practical donations — like Crayons, batteries, toothbrushes and toothpaste — to their Haitian peers.

Christian Flights, which Conforti serves as a board member, has been going to Ranquitte since 1977 and sponsors several mission trips a year. They now travel on commercial airline but previously paid for special mission flights.

One of the most shocking circumstances he found during a previous mission was the lack of supplies at the town's school, which serves 700 kids, Conforti said.

"They didn't have pens or pencils or anything to write on," said the history teacher, who wondered how a classroom could manage without basic supplies.

Conforti said he discovered a passion for mission work through Christian Flights and wanted to share that with his students. He said he knew that, while it could be a great challenge, it could have great rewards.

"Going to Haiti is a different world in many regards," he said. "I just hope we emphasize the idea that Jesus loves us all, and I know that sounds really cliché, but here in the U.S. we are really blessed with a lot of things, and the Haitians a lot of times feel forgotten," he said, adding that the mission trip allowed the students to show God's love through their actions.

To help prepare them in a small way for the poverty they would see in Haiti, he took the group to a public housing complex in Richmond, where they handed out donations and played with the kids.

But seeing the daily struggles of the people in Ranquitte, a town of about 20,000, made Kyle, a ninth-grader, appreciate what he had at home in Kentucky, he said. Some Haitian kids who were his age couldn't attend school because they needed to help make money for their families. Some had a single pair of shoes or only one shirt.

That made him want to make the most of his week in Haiti, even if the work, which included hauling and stacking concrete blocks, and building mud and block houses, was challenging and difficult.

"I knew what I was going home to," he said.

The students also enjoyed their limited down time, gathering in the evenings for a couple of hours to talk and share music with the locals. Even though there was a language barrier, they connected.

"Just making them laugh and having fun with them, being able to really interact with them" was the highlight of the trip for Brooke Tackett, a ninth-grader.

Conforti said those moments "made the whole week worth it."

"For an hour or two every evening, they were just kids," he said.

Mary Meehan: (859) 231-3261. Twitter: @bgmoms. Blog: Bluegrassmoms.com.

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