Huntington University has always had a global vision to impact the world for Christ. Huntington staff, students and alums have experienced that wide-reaching vision through a unique relationship with one small corner of the world – the nation of Haiti.
When Huntington University student Shannon Wilson first went to Haiti during her freshman year in 1996, she never realized it would change her life. That year, the January-term group who ministered in orphanages discovered a baby girl that soon captured the heart of the Huntington community. Miraculously, this critically-ill orphan returned to the U.S. with the students, who arranged for life-saving surgery provided free of charge by a Fort Wayne hospital. “Baby Hope” was adopted by an Indiana family soon after her surgery.
Shannon still vividly remembers the day of the surgery, including the overwhelming support of the Huntington students.
“There were 25 students praying at the hospital and about 50 students praying in campus lounges. My grandma died that same day, but I couldn’t stop talking about this Haitian baby. God takes one life, but gives another. Here was a baby thrown away in Haiti, who meant nothing there, and everyone in Huntington is suddenly praying for her. If God could take care of her, I knew he could take care of all my problems.”
For Shannon, being a part of that experience changed her life. Throughout her college experience, she returned to Haiti on three other occasions. Then following graduation, she spent four years living in Haiti, including three years teaching at the Quisqueya Christian School in Haiti ’s capital of Port-au-Prince.
“As an elementary education major, I wanted to teach,” Shannon said. “That was my passion, but I didn’t want to leave Haiti so I ended up teaching there.”
Upon returning Huntington as an admissions counselor, Shannon still carried her passion for the people of Haiti. Later on, she returned to help run a summer camp geared toward the community’s poorest children. Joining her at the camp were three other volunteers with Huntington University connections: Charity Coffey, a 1999 graduate who lived and served in Haiti; Lynda Barnum, a 2004 graduate who teaches at the same school at which Shannon taught; and Richard Strick, a senior ministry and missions major. Richard later spent the fall semester serving with 1992 Huntington graduates, Brad and Vanessa Johnson. The Johnsons have started an orphanage, established a church and are building a clinic in Haiti .
The summer camp taught the Haitian children about their environment and how they can impact their country. “The kids who came were mostly poorer children from the mountain villages,” Lynda remembers. “For them, coming to camp is the highlight of their year and perhaps the closest thing to school that many of them will ever experience.”
Like Shannon, Lynda was first exposed to Haiti during a Huntington University short-term missions trip. “Haiti is one of those places you don’t easily forget,” Lynda said. “When I had to look for a job during my senior year, Quisqueya Christian School was the first place that popped into my mind.”
Lynda says that the students she teaches are “undoubtedly the future doctors, lawyers, politicians and businessmen of Haiti – a poverty stricken country that is in desperate need of strong Christian leadership.”
For both Shannon and Lynda, Huntington University mission trips provided the spark that fueled their passion for the people of Haiti. With several alumni connections in the area today, Haiti will continue to be a place where Huntington students, staff and alums will impact the world for Christ.
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