Helping Haiti

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August 30, 2010

It was a Bradley history class in the late 1970s that got Rick Pierson thinking about his future. 

“Being a Peoria kid, I had figured I’d work on the line at Caterpillar. That’s kind of what everybody did. I was on the verge of basically dropping out of school when I happened to take one of Dr. Greg Guzman’s courses on ancient Greek civilizations. He was the one individual at Bradley that changed my whole direction in life,” said Pierson, who graduated with a history degree from Bradley in 1978 and went on to receive a master’s degree from the Dallas Theological Seminary and a doctorate from the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

Now director of the Global Ministries program at The Compass Church in Naperville, IL, Pierson works with teams of parishioners and missionaries across the globe to offer assistance in crisis zones. Under his direction, his congregation provided financial support to Sumatra following the 2004 tsunami and joined response efforts after Hurricane Katrina hit the U.S. Gulf Coast in 2005. This year he teamed up with the TouchGlobal Crisis Response Team, a division of the Evangelical Free Church of America, to provide immediate and ongoing aid after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake ravaged Haiti on January 12, leaving hundreds of thousands dead and scores struggling to survive amid the wreckage. With round-the-clock news coverage capturing the tragedy, Pierson could see the Caribbean nation needed all the help the world could offer.

Six months after the quake, the media’s fleeting crosshairs had long since targeted the next big news story, but when Pierson arrived in Port-au-Prince on July 11, he discovered the aftermath was every bit as harrowing as it had been in January. Highway medians had become communities, saturated with tents where people lived shoulder to shoulder. Much of the rebuilding was just getting started, and with the streets and highways gridlocked, things were moving very slowly. Pierson and a team of three parishioners spent one week building temporary homes for families in Gressier, located about 20 miles west of Port-au-Prince, and the city of Léogâne, another ten miles west and the epicenter of the February 12 earthquake.  

“We (The Compass Church) gave quite a bit of funds here, and we wanted to see that it was being used properly, and how could we now get people on the ground there who can make a difference,” Pierson said.

Working alongside Haitian volunteers under the merciless summer sun, Pierson’s team was able to provide shelter for about 240 people in just one week’s time. As encouraging as that is, the realist in Pierson suspects Haiti will look much the same ten years from now. For many of the earthquake’s survivors, temporary homes, even tents, are looking more and more like long-term solutions.

“Now it’s just the long haul. Haiti will fall out of the news again, but there’s all this cleanup. There are all these people that don’t have homes,” Pierson said.

His church is already planning three more trips to Haiti in the coming year, and Pierson plans to again throw his own efforts behind the reconstruction.

“I came back thinking ‘I really want to go back again.’ I’ve been all over the world on trips, visiting our missionaries and trying to understand other cultures. You see the needs of the poor everywhere, but I’ve never seen this kind of need,” Pierson said.

In between his future trips to Haiti, Pierson hopes to make an annual journey to Peoria for a rendezvous with his Bradley mentor of more than 30 years, Dr. Guzman.