Berry returns from quake-ravaged Haiti

Claudia Loucks
Brian Berry arrived home in Geneseo on Jan. 17, one week after leaving on a mission trip to Haiti. Berry was in the island nation when an earthquake struck on Jan. 12. He left from the Quad City Airport with two suitcases and a backpack, but returned only with the backpack, having to leave his luggage in order to fly out of Haiti on a private flight.

Even though Brian Berry was about 100 miles north of where the massive earthquake struck in Haiti on Jan. 12, he felt the earth move under his feet.

Berry arrived in Port-au-Prince on Jan. 11, on a mission trip representing his home church, Grace United Methodist in Geneseo.  He was the only person on the mission team from the Geneseo church, although there were 11 other people, representing churches in Nebraska, Indiana and Kentucky. 

On Jan. 12, the missionaries were making minor repairs and doing  maintenance work on the main building at the Northwest Haiti Christian Mission, based in Saint-Louis du Nord.

He said he knew something was wrong when the dogs at the mission began barking. 

The recent trip was Berry’s sixth experience at the mission, and he said the three dogs there bark only at night.

“Their barking was out of the ordinary,” he said. “Then I could feel the earth move under my feet.

When I looked up to the second floor of the mission building, I could see it was swaying back and forth, and then people began running out of the building.”

The mission is built in a horseshoe-shape compound with two orphanages on the main level.

“One lady began screaming to get the kids out,” Berry said, explaining that one of the orphanages is for infants and the other is for handicapped children.

“We got the kids into the open courtyard, and we just sat there because we expected the aftershocks of the earthquake to begin,” he said. “When we felt it was safe, we started up the generators so we could have power.”

A team of medical personnel left the mission for Port-au-Prince on the morning of Jan. 13. Berry said the team of missionaries wanted to go with them to help, but were told “unless we were medical or military we had no business there,” he said.

“We did what we could at the mission and spent a great deal of time in prayer as some of the employees had lost family members in the earthquake. When those people came to us, we prayed. You can’t imagine how much time is spent in prayer during this disaster. 

“I am so sorry that it took this long to wake up the world.  I believe Haiti has been ignored for decades. Their cry for help has been ignored. If it weren’t for the missions and churches, everything and everyone there would be in worse shape. Haiti is a country in desperate need,” he said.

“The government there is corrupt and does nothing for the population,” he said.  “The government officials live in palaces and yet people all over the country are starving and live without basic necessities such as utilities, water and sewer systems.

“I have seen on television and have read in newspapers about the looting that is going on.  People looted in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.  That is not a characteristic unique to Haiti.  The difference is that in Haiti the people are not looting televisions and tennis shoes, but they are taking food in an effort to survive. They go to bed hungry and they wake up hungry, and that was before this earthquake. I can’t even imagine what it is like now.”

Berry was a member of the mission team that arrived at the airport in Port-au-Prince  and then traveled on a small airplane, to Port-au-Paix.  From there they were taken by truck to the Northwest Haiti Christian Mission.

He said the trip by truck took nearly two hours, even though it is just 12 miles from the small airplane landing strip in Port-au-Paix.

“The trip takes so long because roads are made of gravel and dirt, and mostly dirt,” he said.

The time may have seemed even longer because of the anticipation and excitement of the group. 

They were planning to leave Jan. 12 from the mission and travel to the western edge of Haiti to look for a site to build a second church. Previously, the congregation at Grace Church, with the help of people at First Lutheran Church in Geneseo, raised $15,000, for a church in Augustine, just west of the Mission.  That church was completed last year.

Those plans, along with his hopes to be in Haiti for three weeks, were completely changed after the earthquake.  On Jan. 13, the staff at the mission began working on a route home to the United States for the mission team, knowing it would not be possible to leave from Port-au-Prince.

“When we were able to leave Haiti to come home on Friday, we walked down the mountainside, from the mission to the town area of Saint-Louis du Nord, where we boarded a Haitian bus.

“Don’t picture a Greyhound bus,” Berry said. “It was more like an old school bus.  There were three Haitian security guards who rode with us to Cap Haitian, the second largest city in Haiti.”

The trip is about 80 miles, Berry said, and usually takes about 10 hours, “but we did it in 8 ½ hours,” he said, explaining the group traveled through a mountain pass. “It took all night and we felt like crash dummies.”

But Berry wasn’t complaining because he knew he was fortunate to be “getting out.”

The group left Cap Haitian on a private airline, Missionary Flights International, arriving in Ft. Pierce, Fla., about 5 p.m. on Jan. 16.  They were met by a church group who took them to dinner and then to their hotel.

Having left a country filled with sadness, Berry found happiness in his homecoming at the Quad City Airport late Sunday afternoon. 

His daughters, Jennifer and Jessica Berry and granddaughter, Charlotte Kroll, 2, were waiting for him. 

Berry said he will now take some time “to think about what I need to do.” 

“We still have the funds to begin building a second church, but that isn’t going to happen for awhile. I will continue fund-raising for a second church.

 “People can help by opening their pocketbooks and donating and by opening their hearts and praying for the people in Haiti.  The violence of this earthquake will affect all the people.  There will be so many displaced and they will migrate to other towns.”

The Northwest Christian Mission in Haiti is accepting donations, for more information, visit