When most people in the Midwest plan excursions to leave the country, Haiti isn’t usually on the top of the list. The 2019 year ushered in a trip full of life-changing experiences for Cory Enfield. Cory serves the Yankton First Methodist Church congregation as the Pastor of Discipleship, Youth and Family. United Methodist Church members: Merle and Gena Brandt, and Julie Moderegge, who is the Kids Hope program director for Yankton, also went on the mission. Their visit was from December 31st until January 8th. In Haiti, it was considered winter with temperatures in the 90’s. The local residents often wore jeans and long-sleeved shirts, while the Americans were dressed in shorts and t-shirts. Other church members had been to LaGonave on previous missions, but this was a first for Cory. Cory had been on other missions in poverty stricken communities in the US, but “This was totally different. It’s a culture shock. There’s no electricity, indoor plumbing, or running water. I told my wife and kids that it was something like what the pioneers experienced long ago, when they made their way west without roads or infrastructure.”

Other churches in Yankton, such as Calvary Baptist go to Port of Prince in Haiti, but Merle and Gena are part of a group called “LaGonave Alive”. The couple have gone to Haiti multiple times and always to the island of LaGonave. It has become a headquarters for the Yankton United Methodist mission volunteers. Through previous LaGonave Alive mission work and financial donations, a school and clinic have been built. A doctor and nurses have also been put through medical school and now work at the local clinic in the town of Anse A Galet. Because such strong, long-lasting friendships have been formed, the volunteers want to build on this foundation and keep them intact. LaGonave is a very rural, remote island. It is so isolated, that the Haitian government doesn’t put any time or finances into it, for its residents. A reef-edged island, LaGonave is made up mostly of limestone and is primarily barren and hilly. The population for the 37 mile long and nine mile-wide island is around 87,000.

Full of smiles, Cory shares that every mission has different goals, even if they keep going to the same community. For this trip there were funds set aside for families that had damage done to their dwellings from the latest hurricane or earthquake. They visited people at their residences and choose one family where the rebuilding would be the most practical economically and would make the most impact. “It was a difficult decision, because everyone could use help.”

With the assistance of their Haitian host, Doctor William, from the clinic and another knowledgeable local man, Mr. B, the volunteers were given a list of seven or eight critical cases. The family they choose was a single mother with five children.

Cory relates, “They all slept outside because when the wind would blow, or it would rain, she was afraid the damaged structure would blow over and the walls would cave in on them.” The mission volunteers hired a local Haitian construction crew familiar with the land and could locate materials needed to do the repairs. Two years ago volunteers helped dig the school’s foundation. This wasn’t a mission where the volunteers were doing back breaking physical work every day, as others had done before. It was an excellent opportunity for making pre-existing relationships with local Haitians even stronger.

The work on the residence took longer to start than expected, because work couldn’t begin until after the holiday. Haitians celebrate their independence from France on New Year’s Eve and shoot fireworks off in celebration, just as we do in the United States for the Fourth of July. The missionaries helped make a traditional New Year’s Day meal of pumpkin soup for the students at the school and nearby village residents. This is a very expensive meal to make. It is more like a stew, with lots of vegetables, noodles plantains and goat meat.

Pumpkin soup is a particularly special treat, because under the French regime it was forbidden to the Haitians.

There were many community activities planned during the volunteers stay. One day was spent visiting the many elderly people that lived nearby, and giving them gift bags that had dried rice, beans, and other items that had been donated from local businesses. The volunteers were sure to have candy with them everywhere they went, because like most kids, Haitian children love candy. Another day was spent buying books for the Rob Marchand Education Center and visiting with the teachers to access the  students’ needs.

The school was built by funds generated by LaGonave Alive. Education is not provided for free, but fortunately most of the students at the school have scholarships. The school currently serves children in grades K-4, but after the school’s second story construction is completed, grades 5th -8th will be added.

Another planned event was a movie night for the village children and their families. The Pixar movie “Up” was projected on a sheet after sunset. Cory recalls, “The movie had French subtitles, we popped popcorn and set up chairs. There were about two dozen kids from the neighborhood that showed up. The kids liked it so much they came back the next night. They thought it was going to be an every night thing! We all played games for about three hours instead.”

One little boy named Lulu, lived across the street from the doctor’s residence where Cory and his fellow missionaries stayed. He came over and hung out with the Americans every day of the visit. Lulu appeared to be around three years of age, but was actually five. Cory thought this smallness might be due to malnutrition. Lulu loved being helpful and was a wonderful assistant the day Cory and Merle made book shelves. Cory was able to get cell phone service to call home, and Lulu loved hamming it up on the phone during Facetime with Cory’s family. Cory jokes, “I think my kids wanted to talk to Lulu more than me!” Other evenings were spent relaxing and talking about the day.

The visitors played card games like Uno, and Jenga that they had brought from home. This was until the diesel fueled generators ran out at midnight or one o’clock. “One night we played games with cards that two Haitian guys brought too. We had to learn and teach each other the rules to play, with limited language. ” “We made time for people. For me that was one of the best things. We stayed right in the middle of town. People were able to come to us and we were able to go to them. We were engulfed by the community.” To me that was the best part. If you want to go on a mission and touch people, you have to be accessible. You have to be able to be with people in the moment.” This was such a great experience. It took me back to a simpler time. Harder, but so simple and so relational, even with the language barrier.”

When asked why it seems that all the Yankton groups go to Haiti for overseas mission work, Cory explains that it’s partially due to Haiti’s proximity to the United States, “Cost wise, it’s much less expensive. To go to Africa, Uganda or Kenya… it costs twice as much. Also there’s connection and familiarity from others that have visited previously from the United States.” Having previous contacts is very helpful and important in mission work, and these connections makes the mission trip much smoother to conduct. The Yankton United Methodist Church usual tries to have missions every other year, but sometimes can do it annually. Cory definitely plans on going to LaGonave again and next time having his wife Dana, and their three children join him.

For more information about LaGonave Alive or mission opportunities, please feel free to contact Bruce Blumer at 605-770-5156. LaGonave Alive is also on Facebook and online at