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Haiti quake shocks area church members
Tragedy in Caribbean touches local mission workers, families
APTOPIX Haiti Earthqu boae
Edeline B. Clermont weeps in Miami as she talks to her sister in Boston after both were unable to contact relatives in Haiti after hearing about earthquake that shook the island on Tuesday. - photo by The Associated Press

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Listen to Carlton Hicks, student pastor at Concord Baptist Church, talk about visiting Haiti in June.

Carlton Hicks was shocked by what he saw during a church mission trip in June. Haiti’s poverty was absolute and widespread.

He was numbed again when he saw news reports Tuesday night of an earthquake that devastated the island nation, possibly killing more than 100,000 people.

"They’ve seen death before but not to this extent," said Hicks, student pastor at Concord Baptist Church in Clermont, on Wednesday.

Several area churches have strong ties to Haiti, having sent or planning to send groups on mission trips there or help with already established, well-entrenched ministries.

For many, Tuesday’s earthquake, which toppled buildings and leveled villages, triggered first an emotional response and worry about the fate of relief workers based there, especially as communication and air travel were shut down.

And then, churches, along with relief agencies such as the American Red Cross, have been working on ways to provide much-needed, immediate relief.

"The easiest way (people) can help is to make a donation and specify that (the money) is for Haitian earthquake relief," said Philip Reed, director of the American Red Cross’ Northeast Georgia chapter, based in Gainesville.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has set up a Web site, FamilyLinks, enabling people in Haiti and other countries to search for and register the names of relatives missing since the earthquake.

Also, those trying to reach a U.S. citizen living or traveling in Haiti should contact the U.S. Department of State, Office of Overseas Citizens Services, at 888-407-4747.

Martha Sexton of Commerce received a text message at 7 p.m. Tuesday learning that her two sons, Cory Sexton and Randy Puckett, survived the earthquake.

Cory is an assistant/youth pastor at Sandy Creek Baptist Church in Madison and Randy is a Flowery Branch resident.

"We don’t know where they are right now," she said Wednesday. "... We can’t get through, and they can’t get through."

Sandy Creek Baptist goes on a mission trip every year to Haiti "and they help build their churches," Sexton said.

Keeta Wilborn, chairwoman of the nursing department at Brenau University, said two of the school’s nursing students, both seniors, are from Haiti.

She said they were attending class on Wednesday, as the typical nursing student "doesn’t want to get behind in studies," but they were very concerned about the status of their loved ones.

Wilborn said she and others were trying to find out through the Red Cross how the two students could reach their family. Otherwise, classmates and faculty were trying to show them as much support as possible.

For Hicks, the memories of Concord Baptist’s nine-day trip still linger.

"We flew into Port-au-Prince (the capital) and got on the roads, and we were driving around," he said. "Probably, for the first 30 minutes, not a word was said with our group, shocked at the poverty.

"The garbage is stacked everywhere because, in all honesty, they don’t have a solid government to take care of things. We were speechless."

But "the people are just amazing," Hicks said. "They’re beautiful people and loving."

He said that one of his first thoughts upon hearing the news reports was "Oh my gosh, thousands upon thousands of people are probably going to be dead through this (disaster)."

Free Chapel in Gainesville has supported a ministry based in Haiti, sending about $10,000 a month, later increasing that to $20,000, "which would equate to 540,000 meals," said Richie Hughes, executive pastor.

The Rev. Jentezen Franklin, senior pastor at the church, and five others were planning to leave at 6 a.m. Wednesday for Haiti.

Upon seeing the news reports, the church was able to use Skype, an Internet-based system enabling phone calls between users, to contact Bobby and Sherry Burnette, founders of Love A Child.

"The house was kind of wrecked. People were running in and out giving (Bobby) reports as to what was taking place," Hughes said.

The Rev. Bill Coates, senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Gainesville, said he is sure his congregation will respond to the tragedy.

"Probably in some type of offering, for one thing," he said. "But I have a strong hunch that a number of us will go down there, as well."

The church has worked closely with Conscience International, Rivers of the World and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in relief efforts.

"We’ll be very much involved," Coates said.

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