They drove the streets of Port-au-Prince, past rows of collapsed buildings and rescue teams. On one pancaked structure that used to be four or five stories high, a man stood alone on the tall pile of rubble with a hack saw, cutting away at rebar.

Maybe someone was still inside. Maybe everything he owned was in there.

“It was a bit surreal,” said Phil Strout, a pastor at Pathway Vineyard Church in Lewiston. “You see the pain, and then you see the human spirit and willingness to help.”

Strout and fellow pastor Allen Austin traveled to the Dominican Republic on Jan. 17 to offer support to Vineyard churches and toured neighboring Haiti seven days after a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck near the capital of Port-au-Prince. Austin got home last weekend; Strout returned Wednesday night, after a stop in Miami. One takeaway that they’ve reported back to national church leadership: The devastation is 10 times worse than it looks on TV.

The Dominican Republic has five Vineyard churches, one of which, in Neyba, is an hour from the Haitian border. The Lewiston church has had a relationship with the area, sending down groups of teens the past two summers, and in November, sending down volunteer physician assistants and nurses on a medical mission trip.

The pastors brought with them money from a recent Sunday collection and donated it to church members down there helping Haitians who have been bused to local hospitals for treatment. They were joined on the trip by a pastor from Syracuse, N.Y.

In the Dominican hospitals, Austin said, patients have to supply their own food, their own clothes and, sometimes, their own medicine. The Vineyard church members were helping with that.

During their one-day trip into Haiti, the American pastors traveled in an SUV with two Dominican pastors and a Haitian man named Johnny who had moved to the Dominican Republic nine years earlier and hadn’t been back to Haiti since. A drummer in the Neyba church, he went looking for his parents, without luck.

Strout said they passed rescue teams and saw lots of unattended children wandering around. There were wires down everywhere, he said, and no electricity after dark.

Vineyard has 600 churches in the U.S. Once back in the states, Strout, a member of the national board of directors, briefed church leaders on what he’d seen.

“It’s going to take everything from kindness, medicine, food, water, tents,” he said.

The Lewiston church, which sees 1,000 people at its weekend services, may hold additional collections to help the Dominican Republic and Haiti in the future, he said. It already plans to send teens down again in July and to hold another medical trip in November. Austin will return in March with pastors from New York to start pulling together a five-year strategy to work with the area.

“Not too many people yet are talking about the post-traumatic stress that’s going to set in for millions of people,” Austin said. “Our involvement is not going to be a sprint, it’s going to be a marathon.”

The pastors heard good news out of the Dominican Republic on Wednesday: Johnny had found his parents, alive.

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Pastors of the Pathway Vineyard Church in Lewiston, Phil Strout, left, and Allen Austin recently returned from a missionary trip to the Dominican Republic and Haiti where they saw Haiti’s earthquake devastation firsthand.


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