Jennifer McKinney of Grace Non-Denominational Church in Granite City shares a moment with Haitian children.
GRANITE CITY — Mother Teresa said, “Stay where you are. Find your own Calcutta.” That is exactly what Grace Non-Denominational Church in Granite City did.
Twelve years ago, church members chose St. Marc, Haiti, and the surrounding countryside as the church’s mission. In 2003 a team of eight embarked upon its first mission trip to Haiti. Now there are more than 70 people making up 10 teams that travel throughout the year to help impoverished St. Marc residents. Some of the teams are made up of members of the same family. Team members pay their own expenses for travel, lodging and food. They use their vacation time for the mission. It costs about $2,000 per person to participate in a 10-day mission trip. It’s hard work dawn to dusk, but the grateful people and children of St. Marc make each team member feel their gratitude and love.
Jennifer McKinney, wife of pastor David McKinney, is the overall leader of the operation. Church member Heather Myatt leads the feeding program. These two women, with the assistance and help of their church and other Metro East residents, have helped their mission grow. There is a building team, a medical team and teaching teams. Organizers say each trip to Haiti leaves St. Marc better than the last team that visited.
“You go one time and a person can’t help but become addicted to the mission and want to go back again,” Myatt said.
Jennifer has been going every time a group travels to St. Marc.
“The teams have established a relationship with the Haitian families they have been visiting over the years and there has been a bond of trust built up between them that will be everlasting,” Jennifer says.
The American missionaries who live there year round are thankful for the visits. The teams bring them supplies they are unable to get for themselves.
“The residents of St. Marc rejoice each time a team arrives from Granite City, not just for lifesaving supplies that have arrived but because their friends are back,” Jennifer said.
The teams do most of their work in the orphanages and the prison in St. Marc. They build furniture, construct homes for families and even built a church. The biggest pleasure the teams get is working with children and helping them learn about the outside world. The children take this home and share what they learn with older family members. When food is distributed, the older children show up to get their allotment. They use jars or plastic bags to carry the food back to their families. The food is distributed until it runs out. The children who did not receive any food are taken aside by those who did get food. The children who did get food happily share what they received.
“Even though everyone is starving and poor, they don’t act greedy and run home leaving the have-nots behind empty-handed,” Myatt said. “Each person who receives rations for their own family lovingly waits to see who doesn’t get food and shares.”
Each team takes 3,000 pounds of supplies with them each trip.
One of the last trips found a 7-year-old girl suffering with a tumor that covered the right side of her face, leaving her with only the use of one eye. A special group of surgeons has volunteered to go to St. Marc and remove the tumor surgically. It is all about people reaching out and touching others’ lives by giving from the heart to people who don’t even know one another.
The church’s largest fundraiser, the Haiti rummage sale, is set for 7 a.m. to noon Saturday, Sept. 26, at Grace Church East, 4701 Illinois 111, Granite City. For information about making a donation, call Heather Myatt at (618) 977-0603. New or gently used sale items can be dropped off from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 19; 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 6-8 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 20; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday, Sept. 21; noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 22; noon to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 23; and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept 24. After the sale, there usually are 10 trucks of leftover items that are donated to charities. If a family is burned out of their home, they are welcome to go to the church to get whatever household goods they need. Not only do church members make Haiti their Calcutta, they help people in their own back yard. People also can give online at www.gracestl.org/haiti.
“No gift is too small,” Jennifer said. “Because what seems too little to us means so much to them.”
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