Photo by Gabbi Stienstra

Global repositioning

Chemistry teacher Chris Thompson prepares for his mission work in Haiti

Chris Thompson, who teaches chemistry in the Minnehaha science department, is leaving the school after six years to move to Haiti with his wife, Sara, and his three kids, Luke (11), Ella (7) and Kate (4). The Thompson family is expecting to leave in August of this summer for Gressier, Haiti, a city about 20 minutes outside the capital, Port-au-Prince. They have accepted a term of three years in Haiti for missionary work, only planning to return to the states once or twice a year to visit friends and family.

Where did the decision come from initially?

We’ve been to Haiti, it’s been a part of our life for a while. My wife’s sister is a missionary there, so I had spent time there before we got married, and then we spent a summer there about six years ago. We had talked about a potential life change,maybe later in life of doing something like that overseas. My wife has always wanted to do that, and the idea had kind of grown on me in the last 10 years or so. When the earthquake came [in Jan. 2010] and she was able to go down and help her sister out, who is a physician’s assistant, she met these folks from the [Evangelical Free Church of America] who were doing crisis response. They eventually came to the decision to send a team down there to start do- ing some longer term development and church planning, and that really seemed to fit right in with what we were talking about. It was one of those things where the opportunity came. We talked about it, prayed about it, talked with good friends of ours, and really just felt God was leading us in that direction, so we jumped on the opportunity.

So your main reason for going down there was to help the locals achieve a higher standard of living?

That’s part of it. The vision of the organization that we’re with is to grow the Gospel and plant churches, and that would be in both word and deed. So in both sharing the word and gospel with the people, but also in how we live and how we show that in our deeds. So, for example, getting local churches involved with improving the livelihood of people in their congregations and helping plug into, say, nongovernmental organizations down there that might have opportunities, educational advancement or business loans. Anything like that which would be part of improving standards of liv- ing would still be a secondary goal.

In the work you’re doing in Haiti, how do you hope to reach the residents?

While we know something about it, we aren’t going in claiming to know everything, and we have a lot of Haitian partners who have lived in the culture their whole life, and who will have a lot to teach us about that as well.

Could you describe your living conditions? Relative to the standard living conditions in Haiti, what kind of place will you be staying in?

We’re going to be living in a three-bedroom house, a standard house there that would be bigger than your average Haitian’s, but not as big as your very wealthy resident’s. It is one of those questions of how to get into the culture [yet] not be so far removed from the life of an everyday Haitian. I have a family and kids who, in certain conditions, would not do very well, and it would be very stressful, too. So we’re going to be living in a modest-size house.

Do you need to learn any second languages, get vaccination, or do any other last minute things before leaving?

There are a lot a lot of last minute things, but in terms of language we’ll be learning Creole. We know some, which we’ve learned during our time there, like we can speak a little bit, but it’s not [a language] that I can take, like, a Rosetta Stone or something like that. It typically has to be done by probably four to five hours a day our first few months there, training with a local who speaks English and Creole, and then just going to practice and use it. It sounds French, but then is doesn’t have conjugations, so it’s a lot of, just, learning to speak it. The written language isn’t as difficult as some other ones, so we’ll learn that as we go. Eventually I’d like to learn French, too, because French is part of the language of the, kind of, educated class. Everyone speaks Creole, but about a third of the population speaks French. So, eventually we’ll get there, but we’re going to start with Creole.

And that’s another thing that will probably just come to you the longer you’re there, to learn as you go?

Right, we know some, but there are options to learn it there, but it’s hard to learn Creole in Minneapolis. As far as vaccinations, we will get updated on things, and then just take precautions with things like Malaria and Dengue Fever, which are present there.

What is the toughest part about leaving?

The hardest part is really just saying goodbye to Minnehaha and our family and our church, which have been really instrumental in our family’s life here for the last 10 years. And not that we’re saying goodbye forever, but it definitely is a big change.

So it’s hard, every once in awhile I’ll be really excited to go and then just get this wave of emotion about how, you know, I’m not going to be at our house anymore, we’re not going to see the same people very often, and so that’s difficult, and yet exciting at the same time like any sort of change in life.

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