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Reaching out to refugees

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Devastation can affect everyone - even neighbors.

That's one lesson Sequim missionaries learned in a recent trip to Barahona, Dominican Republic, east of earthquake-ravaged Port Au Prince, Haiti.  

Pastor Jonathan Simonson of Sequim Vineyard Church brought 21 people from his family and church to help with medical needs, house construction and spiritual support.

Simonson said the earthquake didn't affect the Dominican Republic's infrastructure but it rattled its fickle economy and access to everyday necessities.

"The typical person there earns about a dollar a day," he said.

"It costs them a dollar a day just to drink water not from (polluted) streams. They are totally in need."

Simonson met a scientist researching the area's drinking water who said the pollution had gotten so bad that streambed water turned black after three days in his lab. 

"Pollution there is outrageous," Simonson said.

"Here you'd see two or three pieces of trash but there you are stepping on it everywhere."

Sequim's support
Simonson first went to the Dominican Republic last year with his daughter Kyla.

This year's trip ran May 21-31 for the whole group and May 21-June 12 for Simonson and his son Caleb.

They went through Silverdale-based Children of the Nations that also serves Malawi, Sierra Leone and Uganda.

Simonson said it felt more like a humanitarian effort than a mission trip.

"(Children of the Nation's) first priority is relief and helping people," he said.

"They think preaching the gospel is automatic through the work they do already."

Strong foundation
While there, the group poured concrete floors for family homes, repaired cars, played music and led games and crafts for children.

Simonson taught 15 Haitians to weld with equipment that relief workers left behind.

The men competed for the title of strongest welding and celebrated when Simonson couldn't
break their welds.

His daughter Mikayla Simonson took photos of children so people can sponsor them at $29-$32 a month through Children of the Nations for education and medical needs. Find more information at www.cotni.org.

Building relationships
Spending time with local people is what made the trip special for everyone, Simonson said.
"Our group got a great perspective on poverty and life," he said.

Simonson captured some amazing footage and snapshots while on the trip.

One reel shows the miracle of a Haitian girl taking her first steps with a prosthetic limb. She lost her leg when rubble fell on it.

The trip brought a lot of things in perspective for the group, Simonson said.

A teenager on the trip got a bad earache from swimming in dirty water.

Simonson said he encouraged the boy to pray and in 15 minutes the pain went away.

"He wasn't mad it came back but happy he got a glimpse of what God can offer,"
 Simonson said.

The boy later was baptized.

Sporting relief   
Simonson and Caleb spent more time with local residents once the Sequim team went home.

The father-son duo partnered with missionary teams from California and Oregon to encourage locals and play their favorite games with them - baseball and basketball. Caleb said baseball fields and basketball courts seemed like necessities in towns.

He saw that children were amazing at baseball despite using only their hands to catch balls and using pants and shorts for bases.

Caleb's favorite part of the trip was swimming and getting to know local children and missionaries his age.

Haiti for a day
Simonson was given a rare opportunity to travel to Port Au Prince, Haiti, for a day with a small group.

He left Caleb behind for safety reasons and traveled for a half a day in a bouncy bus.

An image that sticks out in his mind was the No Man's Land at the Haiti and Dominican Republic border where struggling Haitian merchants sell goods.

Simonson said they mostly were selling relief items from corporations, such as Levi's jeans and Nike shoes.

"They didn't need that stuff," he said. "They needed water and food."

When Simonson was called to help in Haiti, he wasn't expecting to make an impact while he was resting on the bus.

A construction worker digging up rubble saw Simonson and gestured to him for money.
Simonson saw that the man was sweating profusely and gave him his bandana. The man put it on and went back to work digging for remains.

Continued clean-up
Clean-up crews have worked non-stop picking up demolished buildings, Simonson said. While touring the city, the smell of death still filled the air at times even though no bodies were seen.
Simonson said Port Au Prince seemed like a city of blue from all the canvas tents sent over as temporary housing.

"Now that they are going into hurricane season, if they get hit, it could all go away, like that," Simonson said.

Since Simonson returned home, three teams have gone to the same area as the Sequim team. He's met with Children of the Nations to share solutions to best help people in the area.

More photos of the trip are available on Sequim Vineyard's Facebook page.

Reach Matthew Nash at mnash@sequimgazette.com.

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