On Thursday, November 10th, Harding Director of Global Outreach Ken Graves went to Gonaives, Haiti, to preview a potential location for Harding students to intern and do mission work over spring break and summer. He also invited Harding Bible Professor Jesse Robertson to come along, due to Robertson’s extensive work elsewhere in Haiti.
Harding’s Center for World Missions plans to send students down in the summer to teach conversational English classes using Bible stories. This is in connection with the Haiti Christian Development Project, a Church of Christ missions team established in the 1980s whose motto is “Our vision is not for people to have more, but to be more.”
Graves, who has never sent a mission to this location in Haiti, said he expected the trip would go well. Among checking up on many other environmental issues, Graves also wants to make sure the church is on track and has everything it needs.
“Whenever I send a team down, I want them to look at four points: be able to share their faith, encourage the local church, grow spiritually, and be mentored by it,” Graves said. “Logistically I look at where we’ll be staying and working, the work the students have been invited to do and how it fits in the bigger picture, and get to know some our international hosts.”
What does Graves mean by “bigger picture”? He has been the Director of Global Outreach for over ten years, and did mission work in Brazil for 18 before that, but this recent trip was only his second to Haiti. However, he works with several other Harding professors who go down to Haiti every year, and this was a big factor in bringing Robertson along.
Robertson, who is in his first semester at Harding, first went to Haiti for a mission trip as a student at Freed-Hardeman University in Tennessee. Since then, he has made numerous trips back, and in recent years has organized a group of medical workers who go down and travel Haiti once a year to give a free one-day health clinic, as well as a clinic that feeds impoverished children and offers them scholarships for them to go the college.
“Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and we have a lot of problems with access to food, healthcare, and shelter,” Robertson said. “It’s always a wrestle between doing things of a physical nature, yet also recognizing a spiritual need, which is more important than anything else.”
Graves and Robertson will also be working with James and Abigail Rucker, two Harding graduates who have spent the last two months preparing the location for Graves to preview. James said the mission trips they are preparing will be a great opportunity for Harding students to learn about Haitian language and culture, and make connections with Harding graduates and missionaries around the world.
“It’s a natural way to build relationships when you’re working with people every day and teach them English using Bible stories. They start asking questions not only about our language, but also about our God and what we believe in,” Rucker said.
Graves said that despite the fast-paced nature of the trip (“for an international trip, they don’t get any faster than this,” Graves said) the most important part of the trip is helping the students grow in their faith as much as possible, and he is always impressed to see how this shows up in missions.
“I am always encouraged when I see God’s people all over the world. They encourage me when they persevere through their struggles and share their victories, and I love seeing God’s church taking hold and letting His Kingdom spread and grow wherever I go in the world.”