Our faith teaches us to love our neighbor as ourselves. Often, that can mean the folks in our own communities. But as the members of Dover (Mass.) UCC have learned, it also means people some 1,600 miles away.
On Sunday, Oct. 14, church members and friends of all ages gathered after worship to assemble "Mama Kits" for St. Boniface Hospital in Fond-des-Blancs, Haiti. Thanks to their efforts — along with a community-wide campaign ahead of time to gather supplies and monetary donations — 300 kits are on their way to the hospital, providing a one-month supply for newborns and their mothers.
Dover's members "have a particular passion for maternal care, and Mama Kits provide mothers with desperately needed supplies during a baby's most vulnerable time, the first two weeks of life," said the Rev. Max Olmstead, pastor. "Assembling the kits after worship allowed people of all ages — from the youngest child to the oldest grandparent — to help out. When we see what we are giving, it makes the challenge of motherhood in Haiti quite real to us."
The kits contain such items as newborn onesies, hats, and diapers; receiving blankets, thermometers, and aspirators; newborn toys and rattles; wipes, baby wash, and diaper rash cream. They provide essential support for the new mothers at St. Boniface.
But the Mama Kit project isn't the only Dover UCC effort for Haiti. The church's partnership with St. Boniface began in 2011. After a devastating earthquake leveled much of the country in 2010, its Mission in Action Committee wondered "how we could apply our faith to the world and make a tangible difference in our lives and the lives of other," Olmstead said. Church members "pledged support if an appropriate organization [in Haiti] could be identified."
After several visits to Haiti investigating various organizations and gaining an understanding of their impact, financial stability, and internal controls, Dover UCC entered into a partnership with St. Boniface.
With regular support of both the hospital and St. Boniface's Villa Clinic in a rural mountaintop village near Fond-des-Blancs, Dover UCC has contributed in part to St. Boniface's success story. Although Haiti has the highest infant mortality rate in the western hemisphere, Newborn Intensive Care Unit deaths have fallen from more than 30 percent to less than 10 percent, thanks to the increased quality of care St. Boniface provides.
Additionally, cholera — brought to Haiti by global response workers following the earthquake in 2010 — has been eradicated in the community around St. Boniface, said church member Elizabeth Karlson, M.D., who reported to the church during the Oct. 14 worship service.
St. Boniface had 110,000 patient visits in 2017. Visits increase by 35 percent each year, so Dover UCC's commitment to the partnership remains strong. Especially for church members who travel to Haiti, the outreach is transformative.
"For those who go to Fond-des-Blancs, the experience is life changing," said Olmstead. "When they return and share their experiences in worship, the love and service become as a leaven in our congregation, helping to better discern our call as Christian disciples and as a church."
The entire Dover community also has been transformed by the experience. The local Dover Mother's Association helped gather items for the Mama Kits, and brought their children to participate in assembling the kits, said Beth Benjamin, director of congregational life. "They thanked us for providing an opportunity for their children to learn about helping others."
For the congregation, the partnership is one way church members can "walk the talk" of faith-based social justice.
"Our partnership with St. Boniface and our Mama Kit project are allowing us to make our faith active and tangible," Olmstead added. "In doing this sort of work, we better understand the gospel imperative to help our neighbors, and the ways that this changes them — and us."