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Returned missionaries share Haiti stories

Rockford residents knew more about the earthquake in Haiti before missionaries and Haitians did, said Cliff VanKoevering, of the Baptist Haiti Mission (BHM) in Rockford.

Baptist Haiti Mission volunteers took photos of the devastation.

Baptist Haiti Mission volunteers took photos of the devastation.

VanKoevering was with several volunteers with the mission in Haiti during the earthquake and the 6.1 aftershock. At a press conference held Saturday, January 23, VanKoevering, John Bredeweg and George Meppelink, all just returned from the ravaged country, shared their experiences with members of the media.

VanKoevering goes to Haiti every year and performs maintenance work on vehicles for BHM. He was working on a dump truck when the quake hit.

“At first I thought the truck had started running rough,” he said. When he saw the ceiling start to come down, for a moment he thought the truck’s dump unit had risen and was tearing up the building.

“Immediately after the earthquake there was this eerie sense of stillness,” he said. Then came the dust clouds and the pandemonium. Because communications systems were destroyed, no one on the ground in Haiti knew the extent of the quake, or who was safe.

Television crews film Cliff VanKoevering and his daughter, Anna, 10, on Saturday, January 23.

Television crews film Cliff VanKoevering and his daughter, Anna, 10, on Saturday, January 23.

VanKoevering said the worst of what he saw is too graphic to share. What impressed him the most was the resiliency of the Haitians and how quickly the missionaries were able to reorient themselves into relief work.

From one day to the next after the earthquake VanKoevering switched from relatively routine work of fixing vehicles to emergency relief delivery.

At the BMC compound and hospital near Port-au-Prince the structures survived surprisingly well, allowing the missionaries to provide desperately needed medical services.

The resiliency of the Haitian people impressed VanKoevering and others. They said it was amazing to see people who had lost everything—homes, possessions—show up for work every day to offer their help.

VanKoevering said it wasn’t difficult to return to the United States and felt that the window of time when he, Bredeweg and Meppelink could be of service had passed.

“It’s hard for people to relate to what it is like there, how limited are the facilities,” said Ron Sparks, board member of BHM.

VanKoevering said he believes it was time for the next level of relief workers to take his place, whether it be medical help or rebuilding. “Long after Haiti is out of the news, there will be great need,” he said.

VanKoevering himself will return to Haiti. “It gets in your blood,” he said. He and his wife Deb have six children, two adopted from Haiti. He was greatly moved by his experiences during this difficult time. “My plate is very full as far as being able to process this. I don’t know where it will end,” he said. To find out more about BHM visit online at www.bhm.org.

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