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Farmington has many ties to Haiti

A River Church group is scheduled to go to Haiti in March. Group members are Mike Bednar, Taylor Bednar, James Friedlund, Michael Friedlund, Rocky Rand, Allen Rand, Rustin Robison, Jon Hunter, Garrett Gross, Thomas O'Malley and Jesse Barker

If everything had gone according to plan, Jeff Turner would have been in Haiti last week. He would have been in Port-au-Prince, at a conference held at a medical center. And he very well might not have survived.

Turner was scheduled to travel to Haiti last week as part of a mission trip but he pulled out a month ago because he couldn't put a team together. The center where Turner would have been attending his conference was destroyed by the Jan. 12 earthquake that killed thousands. He feels fortunate his trip fell apart -- "We certainly dodged a bullet," he said this week -- but he's also frustrated he is not able to do more now to help a country he's grown to love over the past several years.

There are plenty of others in Farmington who know how Turner feels. Jim Switzer was scheduled to leave Jan. 16 with a mission trip from Farmington's Faith United Methodist Church. Along with local chiropractor David Truax and some other area medical professionals they were set to run a medical clinic, providing eye exams, dental services and prescription medicines for a few days in the mountain city of Kenscroft. The group has seen about 1,000 patients a day on previous trips.

This year's trip, which also would have included work in Port-au-Prince, has been put off now until at least March because commercial flights to Haiti have been canceled.

Switzer was introduced to Haiti in 2007 after Turner, another Faith Methodist church member, returned from his first mission trip to the country. Switzer has now taken four trips of his own, and he's formed a strong connection with the country and its people. He's started a shoe-collection project that has so far shipped more than 7,000 pairs of shoes to a population that often lacks even basic items of clothing.

"I fell in love with the country," Switzer said. "They're a people that live to survive. They can make anything out of nothing and a lot of them, the real poorest of them, basically their whole life is to scavenge today so they can eat so they can make it to tomorrow."

Just about everyone from Farmington who has traveled to Haiti has discovered a similar affection for the country. For them, watching coverage of the disaster has been surreal.

"I sit and watch CNN and stuff not so much to see the death and see the destruction but to see if there's somewhere I recognize," Switzer said. "I basically was awake all night watching CNN. They say it was bad, but you have to really see the scope of how everything was. I basically haven't slept very good since then because I know so many people down there."

Switzer said he's heard from everyone he works with on a regular basis in Haiti and they are all OK.

While Switzer continues to work on rescheduling his mission trip, another Farmington mission group is adjusting plans for its own trip to Haiti. The 11-person group from the River Church is scheduled to leave in March. That trip is still scheduled to take place, but team leader Mike Bednar said the focus will likely change from building to relief.

Bednar, whose daughter would have been in Turner's group had it gone, said early reports of the earthquake and its aftermath left him stunned.

"My reaction was just complete shock," Bednar said. "I've been to Haiti several times and I consider it almost a home away from home. To see the people devastated, it tore me up."

Several of the team members have been to Haiti before, and they've seen the struggles in much of the country even before the earthquake.

"There was a lot of misery there before this," team member Jim Friedlund said. "I can't even get my head around what I'm seeing and I've been there four times."

Friedlund said it's hard to imagine how people can survive when even before the earthquake they sometimes didn't eat for a few days at a time.

Team member Rocky Rand said he's been looking for ways to travel to Haiti early, and other said their first reaction when they learned of the earthquake was a desire to leave now to help.

"We're all very anxious to go," Bednar said. "We have no fear at all of going."

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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