Saunders

Church mission goes in feet first

Staff WriterJanuary 14, 2010 

If you have ever had bad feet - bunions, corns, ill-fitting shoes - you know that correcting the problem becomes a priority. Richard Pryor once joked that police in his neighborhood used the threat of tight shoes to make suspects confess.

So you know something really, really bad has to happen to make someone forget about aching feet.

In Haiti, something really, really bad did happen, and it's likely that bad feet or ill-fitting shoes are the least of most Haitians' worries.

Linda Mitchell and Joan Gregg, a nurse from Durham and her assistant, landed in Haiti on Monday to teach people how to care for their feet but now find themselves trying to help them survive Tuesday's magnitude 7.0 earthquake.

Hours before the quake, their plane landed seven miles north of the areas that would suffer the greatest damage.

Mitchell and Gregg are missionaries for Epworth United Methodist Church in Durham, which has had a years-long involvement in the long-suffering nation.

The island we forgot

Since it no longer has any exports that the U.S. military is compelled to protect for U.S. business interests, Haiti is politically inconsequential. That's why we don't hear more about Haiti except in times of calamity, coups d'état or when socially conscious singer and native Wyclef Jean mentions it.

Haiti's needs are basic and profound.

Foot care, important in an agrarian country, "absolutely takes a backseat to earthquake relief," the Rev. Hope Vickers of Epworth United said Wednesday. "They're going to respond to the needs of the people and focus on helping in any way they can."

The church usually raises money to help Haitians buy goats, which are essential to their survival by providing milk, cheese and material for clothing.

The earthquake has prompted the missionaries to change their mission.

Robin Marley, the church's former program director, said Epworth's relationship with Haiti started when Mitchell "went on a mission trip with another church group and became very interested in the country and its problems. She started taking small groups three or four times a year."

Everyone can chip in

Local reports on the quake, in which perhaps hundreds of thousands may perish, focus on the handful of Triangle and North Carolina residents who are in the country. We should all pray for their safety. Even if you know no one in Haiti, can't spell it or couldn't find it on a map, we are all, in some way, diminished by the death and suffering there.

The good news is that we also all have a chance to help, just as Mitchell, Gregg and others are doing. Bill Norton, director of communications for the district office of the United Methodist Church in Raleigh, said donations can be made through any United Methodist church or online at www.umcor.org or by calling 800-554-8583 or 212-870-3790 during office hours. Volunteers are also needed, Norton said.

You may not want to go to the island to treat injuries or clear away rubble, but even after the rubble has been cleared, people are still going to need shoes and socks for their bad feet. And goats.

barry.saunders@newsobserver.com or 919-836-2811

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