A group from First Baptist Church of Sylacauga returned with life-changing stories this week from a mission trip to Haiti.

“Visiting Haiti, a place that is four hours away by plane from the richest nation in the world, makes me question as Christians how we spend our time and money,” said Laurie Vines, senior Acteens leader at the Sylacauga church.

Vines said Acteens is a teen organization for girls which focuses on learning about, supporting and doing mission work.

“We talked about doing a mission trip for several years,” she said. “We prayed and began looking for a place.”

Vines said the church participated with other churches to send relief aid to Haiti in 2010.

“I came across an old flyer about that project and wondered what had happened,” she said. “Others began to also feel called to go to Haiti, so we began making preparations.”

Vines said with the support of churches, the community and family members, the group raised $35,000 in five months.

The Acteens who went on the trip included Nicole Compher, 18, Jessica Abrams, 16, Mallory Jones, 15, Grace Swearingen, 16, Anna Tankersley, 15, Courtney Dickerson, 18 and Catherine McConatha, 17.

Senior Acteen leaders included Laurie Vines, Kristy Abrams and Mary Watson.

Junior Acteen leaders included Dana Theilacker and Penne Swearingen.

Additional chaperones included Chris Theilacker, Lisa Compher, Lisa Dickerson and Sid Tankersley.

“It was great because you did something new every day,” Nicole said. “We did water delivery to Cite Soleil, the poorest area in the Western Hemisphere. We visited orphanages named after the sponsor. Gertrude’s was an orphanage that served multi-handicapped orphans and other orphans too. We spoon-fed children who couldn’t feed themselves.”

Catherine said the group played with the children and painted their nails, saying “belle” for beautiful.

“We helped with mealtime,” she said. “One thing that really bothered me was that these kids only got one meal a day. Here we get three meals a day plus snacks.”

Mallory said they visited homes for sick and dying babies and for adults.

“We would feed the kids, then the parents would come and visit with them,” she said. “We would play and hold the babies who didn’t have visitors.”

Catherine said when the group arrived, there were families waiting outside who brought their children there because they couldn’t feed them.

“Leaving was one of the hardest things,” Mallory said. “When the parents left and when we left, the kids cried with their hands out for us to come back.”

Nicole said they traveled to elderly people’s homes where they washed and put lotion on their feet and gave them food bags.

Dana Theilacker said when the group stopped to pick up fresh water it wasn’t in bottles—it was in bags.

“We passed out the bags of water to people in the hospital,” she said. “The heat was inescapable there, like a hot car in an Alabama summer with the windows rolled up.

“One baby captured our hearts. She was abandoned at the hospital because the mother said the baby was dead. She wasn’t dead but was born with her intestines outside her body. Another mother there with her own child took that child in, but won’t name her until after a successful surgery. It was heartbreaking, but precious.”

Vines said at a home for sick and dying adults, they visited with some children.

“I held a girl who probably won’t survive,” she said. “We would tell them ‘Jezi renmen,’ which means ‘Jesus loves you.’ We would tell them that a lot.”

Nicole said the trip to Haiti taught her flexibility and trust in God.

“I felt comfortable down there — I never felt worried,” she said.

Catherine said she learned faith, trust, and definitely to “let go and let God.”

Mallory said her favorite part of the trip was visiting Cite Soleil, which showed the heart of Haiti.

“It makes me thankful for what I have,” she said. “You see all these little shacks and tarps with big families. I come home to a two-story house with plenty of clothes and running water. The difference makes me thank God and pray for the Haitians.”

Mallory said the streets were green from sewage.

“I came up with ideas how to clean up the streets by sending people knowledgeable in streets, sanitation, construction and others to help provide reform,” she said.

Several of the teens said they were most upset about the lack of sanitation and the living conditions for the Haitians.

“Parents would offer their children for us to take home,” she said.

Theilacker said seeing the poverty and despair in Haiti made her rethink the border crisis in Texas.

“It is heartbreaking,” she said.

Catherine said the group learned to be both student and teacher and how to adapt to Haitian customs, such as very different church services. Some of the teens even played futbol, or soccer, with the local children, and gave away soccer balls.

Vines said the Haitians did the work so the money spent went to those Haitians and their families.

“They were happy to have the work and do it,” Theilacker said.

The group agreed this is something they all definitely want to do again. The seven teens even received the nickname “Magnificent Seven.”

“God was with us the entire time,” Vines said. “We felt His assurance we were right where we were supposed to be.”

Contact Elsie Hodnett at ehodnett@dailyhome.com.