"When God Grabs Your Heart..." Shelly Sims completes 17th Haiti mission in 2016
After Shelly Sims of Gallatin returned from her first mission trip to Haiti in the year 2000 — after dealing with rats and voodoo, after living in tents with no drinking water, no electricity, no plumbing — she never thought she’d ever go again.
“But when God grabs your heart, you just can’t quit,” she said.
Shelly has gone at least once a year every year to Haiti for the past 16 years, sponsored by the Gallatin First Baptist Church.
Sixteen years ago, Shelly arrived in the mountains of one of the poorest countries in the world and wondered what she had gotten herself into. But with the passing of time, her attitude has softened as her resolve has toughened: “The need is so great, if I’m uncomfortable for a couple of weeks, it’s no big deal.”
Shelly, a retired health care worker, will grant
that the trip has become a little easier through the
years. From riding in open trucks, the group (consist-
ing of Doug Fritts, leader, Bev Ervin, a nurse from
St. Louis, two Haitian interpreters, and two Haitian
pastors) now has an SUV to get around in, and has
gone from cow path to jeep path.
Thieves still take advantage of the unsuspect-
ing. The SUV doors are locked during the drive
through the impoverished towns and there’s no
stopping. People watch their stuff. “We shipped
medications on a bus, and it got there. There were
200 pounds of medicine, a lot of dollars. You have
to be careful where you send your donations. That’s
one reason I go, to make sure the church gets its
Upon arrival, accommodations have improved.
Instead of a campsite the missionaries stay in a
village called Mare Rouge, which is in the mountains
in Northwest Haiti. Mare Rouge is a fair-sized town
with about 100 houses and a market area... we’re
still extremely careful with the food and use bottled
water or water filters.”
This year was the first year when ice was avail-
able… “it was the best thing ever. No ice cubes, but
you could get a frozen bottle of water. With no air-
conditioning you don’t know how much you miss it.”
The mission group stayed in a guest house
under renovations to modernize, but still had to use
an outhouse at the time. “We joked that the path to the outhouse was like this year’s election,” said Shelly. “Long, slippery and crooked. We had to climb rocks and rubble, usually in the middle of the night. That was the worst we’ve ever had.”
Mosquito netting is tucked in really good at night to keep out the bugs — and the rats. “That’s one thing I ask my friends to pray for before I go on the trip — no rats.”
Pastor Wisny Exima prepared the way. He has set up a medical clinic, a school and a church in this area of Haiti. The Gallatin Baptist Church supports four children in his school. The children attending have to be too poor to afford the other schools. He has 200 children this fall. This is the third year of the school.
In the free medical clinic, the missionaries saw 800 people in eight days, averaging about 100 people each day. The clinic moved from one village to another to shorten the walking distance of the natives who came on foot.
“I saw a lot of the same people this year as I saw the year before,” Shelly said.
Her first year in Haiti, Shelly was aware of a lack of vehicles and had a sense of isolation, as though cut off from the rest of the world. That has changed.
“There are a lot more vehicles now,” she said. “And cell phones — the cheap track phones. It’s an achievable status symbol for the Haitians. Older teenagers have cell phones. They do the same stuff American kids do. I have to threaten to kick them out of the clinic if they don’t stop playing games on their cell phones.”
Though they are experienced registered nurses, Shelly and her peers still sometimes don’t know what every disease and ailment is.
“One man came in with face lesions. We had no clue. There’s no test, no labs, no x-rays. It was probably tropical. They have a plant in Haiti, much like our poison ivy. We don’t always have the exact right stuff to treat with, so we use what we have. As long as we do no harm.”
Haitian medical equipment is ancient.
“Our leader got sick with a bowel obstruction from something he should not have eaten and had to go to the hospital,” Shelly recalled. “He had to take his own bedding, his own food, and since there were no screens on the windows, his own mosquito netting. He had to take somebody with him, because there is no nursing care. There was a doctor who gave him IV fluids and pain meds until he got back to the States.”
Voodoo on the decline
The voodoo drums still beat, but they are dying down. The Haitians of Pastor Exima’s church are dedicated Christians. “More so than we are,” Shelly believes. “They have no distractions. No TV, no sports, no money. Just God to depend on.”
The missionaries were gone for two weeks. It takes two days to get to the village and two to get out, so they were 10 days working. “There’s plenty of work here to do, but God called me to Haiti,” Shelly said. “And I’ll keep doing it until His plan for my life changes.”
-- published in the Gallatin North Missourian, Aug. 3, 2016