The mission trip will last at least a year.
Just a few pieces of furniture remain in the Epstein house in Tymber Creek. The family of five is selling what they can and will donate the rest in preparation for their move next month to Haiti, where they will be a Christian missionary family for at least a year.
After months of preparation, the entire family looks forward to their new life in the impoverished, third-world country.
“The closer it gets … I just want to be there,” said 12-year-old Genesis. “I’m excited.”
Genesis and her sister, Kelilah, 10, have traveled to Haiti several times with their parents, Matt and Lauren. They especially enjoyed working at the orphanage which currently houses 35 children. Their parents tell the story of orphan children giving candy to their daughters, even though they had little themselves.
“The orphan kids are so loving,” Lauren Epstein said. “They have so little but will give what they can.”
The daughters have their own mission plans. Genesis wants to start a soccer team for girls, because only boys play soccer there. Kelilah aims to start gymnastics group and promote physical health. Teaching knitting is also a possibility.
Leaving the comforts of American life, they will have limited electricity and will have to carry water to the concrete block house that is being built for them
“It will be hard but we’ll get used to it,” Kelilah said.
A RESILIENT AND JOYFUL PEOPLE
Lauren Epstein is accomplishing a lifelong goal. She first went to Haiti as a 15-year-old, working as a pharmacist assistant, and decided that’s what she wanted to do someday. Currently a pharmacist at a local long-term care facility, she will be working as pharmacist at the mission clinic in Haiti.
Matt Epstein has a degree in Christian education and has served as a youth minister and camp counselor. He’ll be coordinating the work of visiting missionaries.
Traveling for the first time to Haiti will be Micaiah, age 3.
“It will be hard but we’ll get used to it.”
KELILAH EPSTEIN, 10, on living in Haiti
The mom said it will be a big adjustment, but she sees positives in the Haitian lifestyle.
“Here, you get separated from people,” she said. “But after Hurricane Matthew, you were outside asking neighbors if everything is alright. It’s that way all the time in Haiti.”
Lauren and Matt, who both grew up in Ormond Beach, speak of the Haitians as friendly, welcoming people, who are generous with what little they have.
“They are beautiful people in a horrible situation,” Matt said. “They are resilient and joyful people.”
The Epsteins have made a dozen mission trips to Haiti, and the relationships they have with the Haitian people helped make them decide on a longer stay. They have led medical teams, construction, Vacation Bible School and more.
They work through the Northwest Haiti Christian Mission, based in Indianapolis, and are supported by their church, The Chapel, 1805 N. U.S. 1. Donations are accepted.
A CULTURE OF VOODOO
Matt Epstein said people in Haiti face pressure from their "voodoo culture" if they want to learn about Christianity.
Once, a group of missionaries had noticed a handmade broom on the sidewalk, and later found out it was an attempt to stop their efforts by someone practicing voodoo. Matt kicked it aside and another man broke it in half to show it had no power.
The Epsteins say a voodoo priest will curse someone, and then hire thugs to beat the person up to show the curse worked.
It's a belief system that has been handed down through the generations.
Downsizing to practically nothing has been difficult but fun, Lauren said.
“It’s so wonderful to simplify,” she said.
They will be living in Mole St. Nicolas in the northwest part of the country. That area was not directly hit by the earthquake of 2010, but many people moved there after the quake, straining the resources.
The goal of the mission is to create a sustainable lifestyle for the people. Among the skills taught are hydroponics and raising goats and chickens. NWHCM states that it has educated 5,000 children and provided three million meals.
The family plans to stay a year but says it depends on God’s plan.
“The return ticket has not been bought,” Lauren said.
When the Haitian people ask why they care, and why they want to help them, they tell them about their Christian faith, Lauren said.
Another Ormond Beach family, the Linkinhokers, Elizabeth, Dave, and daughter Grace, have served as missionaries in Haiti with the Children's Lifeline organization.