Lutheran church sends mission group to Haiti

SUWANEE -- This week, a group from Epiphany Lutheran Church is about to wrap up an 11-day mission trip to Jacmel, Haiti where a summer camp was put on for about 300 impoverished children.

Pastor Rick Barger, in his fourth year making the trip, said supporting the country has been on his mind since he first visited in 1997, but the 2010 earthquake only added to the motivation to help.

"We needed to remind the children there that we're with you," Barger said last month before the group departed on June 30.

He visited Haiti in May, and said he got a sense of how much the children looked forward to the upcoming camp, which will be put on through a joint effort with another Lutheran church in Littleton, Colo., where Barger served before he came in Suwanee in 2008. The name of the camp is "Fet Bondye Bo Lamne," which Barger translated as "God's party by the sea."

"As I walked through the town, and came through some of the schools, they're all fired up that we're coming down," he said.

The joint effort between the Epiphany and Colorado groups will contribute $85,000 toward Haiti, including a $15,000 grant to provide water filtration kits to Haitians.

Barger is leading a group of 15 high school and college students, and three adults that are expected to return home on Tuesday.

This year's theme is how to care for creation and to preserve resources. The group will also focus on hygiene, exercise, education and community. Each child receives a personal hygiene kit at the end of the camp.

And Barger said although the conditions aren't comfortable, it's a rewarding trip.

"It's hot, no privacy," Barger said. "They're serving all the time. It's great fun, but you're always on duty."

Sleeping arrangements are in tents, bathing is done with water in buckets, and Barger said there's no escape from the heat.

Haiti is Epiphany's main international outreach program, but the church also supports the Foster Children's Foundation and the North Gwinnett Co-op locally.

It's typically a life-changing experience for those who go, Barger said, and past attendees have gone on to work for, or support other Haitian charities. One alum of the trip went on to work for the Clinton Global Initiative.

"God works fast on people in Haiti, and it just changes hearts, and begins to help people decide what it is that they want to do with their lives," Barger said.