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Students renew their faith while in Haiti





Emile Carter taught dance. Drew Gannon instructed classes. Anna Herl socialized with the locals. Breanna Tendick learned how to love and be loved. Carter, Gannon, Herl and Tendick are among the 43 members of Encounter at Celebration Community Church who spent last week in Haiti.

After leaving June 1, the group spent the week teaching and playing with the local children.

"As Encounter has grown, we sought out everyone's gifts and passions," said Herl, Encounter leader and adjunct faculty member for health and human performance at Fort Hays State University. "We realized we had a large group that had a heart for missions. It was amazing how many people really wanted to serve. I left so humbled and changed from the things we saw and the things we learned."

The group taught primarily about love, respect and each person's value.

With an absence of technology, Herl said a connection was formed between the group and the locals.

"Here, everyone is on their phones, so you don't really get that connection," Herl said. "We had problems with the language barrier, but we knew it was OK to just sit there and not talk. They just wanted to be loved on."

On the final day, the group members compiled all their belongings and left it all for the children.

"It was really cool to give that small part of ourselves to these kids," said Carter, an FHSU sophomore and member of the dance team. "That's something we take advantage of because we have easy access to clothes, hygiene products, and they really don't."

Tendick, an FHSU junior, made the decision to embark on the missions trip because of an internal struggle.

"I was hesitant about believing a lot of things about my faith," she said. "I was trying to understand how other people saw their faith. I knew I would learn a lot about love that I've never had in my life. I wanted to experience what real love is."

Due to a rough family background, Tendick said she could identify with the community's need for love.

"I spent a lot of time not really feeling what love is," she said. "I knew those kids experienced pretty much the same thing. I knew there would be that connection, and I could love them in the same way they love me -- even though we both don't understand that kind of love because we haven't had it before."

Everyone agreed the experience greatly affected his or her outlook on life.

"Everyone will say our lives have been completely transformed," said Gannon, an FHSU graduate assistant. "We built relationships you can't build in the states because of distractions. We get so caught up in worldly things, and it complicates life. Life is simply about love and relationships. We learned that down there."

Herl recounted the most impactful moment of the trip, which taught her about the simplicity of life.

"It was one of the first days there," she said. "There was this one guy. We were asking him questions, just trying to get to know him. At the end he said, 'We keep it simple here. We live and praise Jesus.' It just made me understand how that's not what I do at all. I'm going from one thing to the next. It's a rat race over here. Their full-time job is survival. When I get caught up in things, I think, 'What am I doing? Am I choosing to focus on this, or am I praising God for all the blessings in life.' That really stuck out for me. We are so thankful and blessed."