Members of several church groups from the Carolinas are stuck in Haiti following multiple days of violent protests in the country over high gas prices.
Ten adults and two teenage volunteers from the North Albemarle Baptist Church in Stanly County are taking refuge in an orphanage outside of Port-A-Prince as Haitians have taken to the streets of the country’s capital city in violent protest. The church sends groups to the country on mission trips multiple times a year.
The Stanly County group flew out on June 30 for what was supposed to be a one week trip. They were scheduled to return Saturday. The church’s lead pastor, Brad Lynch, said as the week went on, the scheduled flight home looked unlikely.
“Friday evening, we started getting messages from the team that they weren’t sure if they were going to be able to make it to the airport on Saturday,” Lynch said.
He said the route to the airport was too dangerous.
“Too many protestors, too many makeshift barricades of burning tires and mattresses,” Lynch said. “We were getting reports of civilians arming themselves at these barricades and charging to let individuals through.”
So the team decided to stay at the orphanage and rescheduled their flight for Wednesday morning. Lynch said the team is safe at their current location. Their main concern now is food and fresh water, which Lynch said is in short supply. He said the group’s supplies should be good until their flight Wednesday if they can make it to the airport.
“If for whatever reason that doesn’t happen,” Lynch said, “then after that, we are really looking at a significant situation.”
Lynch said he’s been in contact with the State Department, which will intervene if the group can’t make their flight.
Churches from Caldwell and Richmond Counties, as well as Lexington County in South Carolina, also have missionaries stuck.
The U.S. Embassy in Haiti is asking Americans to shelter in place if they are in the country and to reconsider travel if they are not.
Price hikes were supposed to go into effect Saturday, with gas prices rising 38 percent and diesel and kerosene rising 51 percent. The Haitian government said it was an effort to balance the country’s budget, but has now backed down as a result of the protests.
Lynch said there wasn’t any way the North Albemarle Baptist group could have prepared for this.
“We did not see the political unrest getting to the level that it has,” he said. “It just kind of took us by surprise.”
Lynch added that his church won’t let the situation stop them from sending groups to Haiti in the future.