Flowery Branch’s Randy Puckett is returning to Haiti one year after he was caught up in the earthquake that devastated the island nation.
“Once we get there, I think everything will be fine,” he said. “But going there and that initial touchdown may be a little shaky.”
As he did last year, Puckett will travel to Haiti on a mission trip sponsored by Sandy Creek Baptist Church in Madison.
The destination will be different, however. This year, his group will travel to the mountaintop village of Goday to build a structure that will serve as a church, community center, school and hurricane shelter.
Puckett has ventured to Haiti several times with the church, where his younger brother, Cory Sexton, serves as an assistant youth pastor.
But last year’s journey was, by far, the most eventful.
His group had just finished building a new church in the mountainside village of Grand Place Leroy, about 20 miles north of Port-au-Prince, when the ground began to shake.
“We had cement coming off the walls hitting us in the face,” Puckett said in an interview a few days after the Jan. 12 earthquake, resting comfortably in his Flowery Branch apartment. “That’s when we ran — we got out of there.”
He was then caught up in “extreme” ground motion.
“At first, I thought it was a landslide because we were on a mountain,” Puckett said. “Once we got outside, (with) the noise and cracking rock and just the loud roar coming from the earth, I thought maybe an earthquake.”
The group eventually made its way to Port-au-Prince, seeing scenes of destruction everywhere.
“People walking around had the most hopeless look in their eyes,” Puckett said. “There was just no hope. They were hungry and homeless.”
The church group eventually arrived at a private airfield in Madison on Jan. 16 “to a huge reception,” he said.
Despite the horrific event, Puckett said he felt the need to return to Haiti.
“We’re needed there, to build churches and teach them about God,” he said.
This year’s trip is scheduled for Jan. 15-22.
In an interview Monday, Puckett said the church plans to build its biggest building in the years he has taken the trip. Also, because of the project’s size, the group will have 22 members, compared to 16 last year.
This year won’t be without with challenges. Haiti is undergoing a cholera outbreak, but Puckett said his group won’t be in the same area of the country where that is happening.
“Hopefully, it won’t get to where we’re going,” he said. “We can’t drink any of the water anyway. We have to take our own bottled water.”
And getting to Goday won’t be easy.
“We’ve got about a three-hour hike up a mountain to get to the village,” he said.
Living conditions in Goday will be primitive. The group will stay in huts and won’t have access to running water.
“Everything (the villagers) eat, they either grow or raise. We’ll take our Beanee Weenees with us, but the rest of it will be goat meat, rice and black beans,” Puckett said.
Goday is about 60 miles east of Port-au-Prince, with the group planning to stop on its way at Grand Place Leroy.
“We plan on taking a detour to see the church and see what kind of progress they’ve made on the floor and stuff like that,” Puckett said.
Asked if he expects to replay some of the memories from last year’s earthquake, he said, “I hope so.”
“While it scared all of us, we never really had any fear. ... It felt like (God) had me protected the whole time,” Puckett said. “... That was the best feeling I’ve ever had.”
He said he was moved by the U.S. response to the disaster.
Puckett said he also can’t forget the Air Force’s assistance in getting his group out of the country.
“They are still my new heroes,” he said. “Every time I see somebody from the U.S. Air Force, I buy ’em lunch. I figure that’s a small price to pay.”