Collegian undeterred from serving in Haiti
FOND PARISIEN, Haiti (BP)--Heath Stone knew God wanted him in Haiti. Problem was, nobody would help him go.
The 19-year-old pre-med student at the University of Tennessee called just about every relief organization he could think of, to no avail. There simply wasn't any opportunity available in Haiti that coincided with his spring break.
Stone felt so strongly about helping earthquake victims that he had turned down invitations to spend his break on the beach in Panama City, Fla., and snowboarding in Breckinridge, Colo.
"I kept trying to push to be able to come to Haiti and make a difference," says Stone, a member of Central Baptist Church of Bearden, Knoxville, Tenn., "and it seemed like every door was closing.
"My uncle kept reminding me about the verse where God talks about who He's going to send, and Isaiah answers, 'Here am I, send me.' God really laid this trip on my heart.... I knew if God wanted us over here He was going to make a way."
Stone's uncle, Jamie Luffman, a firefighter and emergency medical technician, says he laughed when his nephew first asked him to go to Haiti on a medical mission trip.
"I said, 'Do they not have CNN in that dorm room?'" Luffman, from West Hills Baptist Church in Lebanon, Tenn., recalls. "'That place is trashed.'" But it didn't take much convincing before he was on board.
Through Stone's connections at the University of Tennessee Medical Center, he and Luffman applied to serve through the International Medical Alliance (IMA), a nonprofit group that provides free medical and dental care to developing nations. Stone received an e-mail that they were needed in Haiti within a week.
The pair spent much of their time working at a field hospital near Haiti's border with the Dominican Republic. Many of the hospital's 280 patients are recovering from crush injuries that left them with large, open wounds.
Though his medical experience is limited, Stone put what training he has received to good use, working hand in hand with his uncle to change patients' bandages.
It's obvious that Stone admires his uncle. Turns out, the feeling is mutual.
"He once wrote a paper about me," Luffman says, holding back tears. "He had to write about his hero, and he wrote about me. I've still got that paper, and I don't want to let that boy down. So if he calls, we haul, and here we are.
"I'm proud of him. He's a good Christian kid and he always has been."
Despite all that he's seen -- including children with amputated limbs -- Stone says Haiti's crushing poverty may be the hardest to stomach.
"I've never seen so much heartache in my life," he says. "Pictures don't do it justice."
Stone can't shake memories of friends likes Francois, a Haitian translator who lost his entire family in the earthquake, or Jean Charles, whose Port-au-Prince home was destroyed.
"His [Charles'] work at the hospital was finished and he told me he was going back to Port-au-Prince," Stone recounts. "I asked where he would live. 'I'll just go to the streets,' he said.
"Hearing that broke my heart. That's going to stick in my mind for the rest of my life."
The experience of serving in Haiti, Stone says, was well worth the hassle of getting there.
"God calls us all to different things. A lot of times I've said no," Stone says. "Going to Breckinridge would have been great ... but I'm so much more blessed helping those people.
"Don't let an opportunity that's going to make a difference in the next life pass you up."
The International Mission Board is looking for 275 Christian students to volunteer to work with children displaced by the earthquake. From May 15-July 24, the IMB will send teams of 25 students to spend two weeks each ministering to children in refugee camps, orphanages, schools and villages near Haiti's border with the Dominican Republic. To get more information, visit gohaiti.org or call 1-888-421-4408.
Don Graham is a writer for the International Mission Board.