Posted by: Titus Presler | January 13, 2010

Haiti mission links respond immediately after earthquake

It has been 24 hours since a devastating earthquake hit Haiti, and during this time the scores of links between the work of the church in that desperately poor and challenged country and mission companions in North America have been activated as Episcopalians and Anglicans pray, send funds and seek to reach out to the people they know there:

• Episcopal Relief & Development already has a conduit for funds and has prepared bulletin inserts for Sunday parish notices throughout the church.

• Presiding Bishop Katharine Jeffert Schori issued a statement, and Canadian Primate Fred Hiltz also issued a statement.

• Many congregations and dioceses have reached out to congregations, laypeople, clergy and religious whom they know in Haiti and have shared news through their websites and e-mail circulars.

• Many dioceses and congregations are reaching out likewise to Haitian congregations in the United States.  For example, at last evening’s meeting of the Diocese of New York’s Congregational Life for Mission Commission, the news had just broken, and two Haitian members left to keep in closer touch with the situation.

We have been grieved to hear of the death of Lisa Mbele-Mbong, daughter of Helena and Samuel Mbele-Mbong, who had worked in Haiti for a number of years as a human rights officer with the United Nations.  She died in the collapse of the human-rights section of the building that housed the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) in Port-au-Prince.   A dedicated and courageous young worker for justice and peace, Lisa began working in Haiti during one of the country’s most desperate times.  In addition to her parents and sister, Lisa leaves her young son Nady.

Here is Helena’s letter:

Dear Family and Friends,

We thank you for your concern and your prayers following the earthquake in Haiti for our daughter, Lisa Anne, and grandson, Nady, and for all the people in Haiti.

We received a phone call around 5 pm our time today [Jan. 13] from our friend, Commissaire Phirma (a Cameroonian with the UN Police Section). Nady is OK and is with him and colleagues. But Lisa is one of many who did not survive the collapse of the human rights section building in which she was attending a meeting when the earthquake struck.

Arrangements have not been made yet. We will keep you informed.

Lisa was a Human Rights Officer (Team Leader of the Policy and Planning Unit) with MINUSTAH (United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti). Nady, now 10 and in CM2 at the French school (final year of primary), has been with her since September 2007.

Samuel, Helena and Leontyne

Helena and Samuel are members of Emmanuel Church in Geneva, Switzerland, a congregation of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe.  Helena is a long-serving convocation deputy to General Convention, a former chair of the Standing Commission on World Mission, and an activist in the Anglican Women’s Empowerment initiative.  Helena retired from service to the World Health Organization and Samuel from service to the World Meteorological Organization, both of them United Nations agencies.

Episcopal News Service’s initial story, available here, noted that several people were killed in a collapsing church building.  Obviously, there may be many more.  Concerning Episcopal missionaries serving in the Diocese of Haiti, which at 100,000-150,000 members has more members than any other diocese of the Episcopal Church, the ENS story said this:

The Episcopal Church has four U.S.-based missionaries working Haiti, three of whom were in-country when the earthquake hit: the Rev. Oge Beauvoir, dean of the theological seminary in Port-au-Prince, and Young Adult Service Corps volunteers Mallory Holding of Chicago and Jude Harmon of Massachusetts.

The Rev. David Copley, the Episcopal Church’s mission personnel director, began attempting to contact the three in-country missionaries Jan.12. Copley’s associate Yanick Fourcand spoke with Beauvoir’s brother in Ottawa on Jan. 13. He said he had spoken with Beauvoir’s wife Serrette, who confirmed that both she and her husband were alive.

Copley has not yet been able to confirm Holding’s and Harmon’s whereabouts or condition, he said.  “We’re concerned as everybody and praying and working to contact both of them and constantly being in touch with their families as well,” Copley told ENS.  The U.S. State Department is aware of efforts to find Harmon and Holding, he added.  Both Harmon, a member of Christ Church in Cambridge, and Holding, a member of St. Mark’s, Glen Ellyn, Illinois, work with Beauvoir. Holding also does development work for the diocese, Copley said. Both began their placements in September 2009.  Holding lives next door to the seminary in an apartment building and Harmon lives a short distance away at the diocese’s University of Haiti. Both locations were near the country’s heavily damaged presidential palace.

The fourth, the Rev. Lauren Stanley, was in Virginia at the time of the earthquake.  A former newspaper reporter, she is systematically seeking information about how the church has been affected.  Her previous assignment in the Diocese of Renk on the border between the Muslim north and Christian south of Sudan has prepared her well for mission amid crisis.

The reported devastation of the Holy Trinity Cathedral complex, which includes the convent of the Society of St. Margaret, and the destruction of St. Vincent’s School for handicapped children are a great loss to the mission of the diocese.   This evening on NPR former President Bill Clinton, now the UN’s special envoy for Haiti, noted that in 1975 he and his wife Hilary, now US secretary of state, visited the cathedral, which, with its famous murals, has been one of the architectural landmarks of Haiti as well as a center of prophetic mission.  Interestingly, Clinton said he anticipated that a spiritual transformation was possible in the wake of the earthquake.

The Haiti Connection, a loose network of the many Episcopal parishes, dioceses and agencies working in Haiti, has an opportunity in this crisis to help coordinate the efforts of the many Episcopalians concerned to help in the catastrophe.  The network was formed as an effort to improve communication with the Diocese of Haiti, especially Bp. Zaché Duracin, and to improve communication and coordination among the many concerned parties in order to reduce duplication and maximize mission effectiveness.  So far, however, its website does not reflect the current catastrophe.

The second ENS news story, published this evening, focuses on the logistical challenges of disaster relief in Haiti and includes helpful commentary by Rob Radtke, president of ERD.



  1. Thank GOD for all blessings to you in this time.

  2. Titus,

    My friend Mary posted your story on her Facebook page. I think she knew Lisa Mbele Mbong. I didn’t know her, but she sounds like a wonderful person. I’m very sorry to hear she was lost in the earthquake. What terrible devastation. (But imagine my surprise when I clicked on the link Mary posted, and it took me to a story written by you! Greetings and hugs to you and Jane and the whole family! I think this is a little nudge from the universe, reminding me that I want to keep in much better touch with you.) My sincere condolences for the loss of Lisa, and for every precious life that has been lost in Haiti in this unimaginable catastrophe. Much love, B.

    • It’s so good to hear from you, Elizabeth! Yes, it is all so very sad. We will stay in touch. Love, Titus

  3. I too, am sad to hear of my friend Lisa M-bele M-bong’s death and would also like to contact her parents. Would you please contact me at my email so I can send condolences? Thank you.

  4. Please, say it is not true! Words cannot convey my shock and loss. Lisa was the little sister I dreamt of having: smart, loyal, fun, beautiful, and idealistic. A force of nature, she seemed indestructible. At the same time, under her veil of dispassion, she was the most fragile friend and the softest and caring mom you could imagine. I am currently offsite am have no contact information for Samuel and Helena. Please send if you have it. Thanks immensely.

    • Mes tres sinceres condoleances a toute la famille. Je ne connaissais pas particulierement Lisa mais a travers mon epoux qui fut son encadreur a l’université et qui m’a souvent parle d’elle je sais que c’est une GRANDE FEMME QUE NOUS PERDONS tous plein de vie et surtout d’amour pour autrui. J’espere que le tout puissant accorde a sa famille la force de pouvoir surmonter et depasser cette epreuve si difficile. Avec tout mon soutien, Angele.

  5. Thank you for your posting. I am so sad to find it. Lisa Mbele Mbong was a beautiful woman and wonderful friend and I am heartbroken about this news. Please can you help me find a way to contact her parents to send my condolences? Thank you –
    Kate Doyle

    • Thank you for your comment and for your support for this wonderful family. I’ll be in touch with you offsite with contact information. Blessings to you in this time of grief. Titus

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