Global studies student enjoys challenge of leading mission team to Haiti

Posted: August 6, 2013

With a heart for serving and a leap of faith 19 year-old Cassie Van Camp led seven Briercrest College and Seminary students aboard a plane this past April to participate in a life-changing missions trip to Haiti.

 “I wanted other people to be able to experience falling in love with the environment and people in Haiti,” Van Camp, third-year Global Studies student at Briercrest, said.

“And just for the team to be able to be a part of the helping community and be a part of what is going on there.”

While not initially planning to lead the team, Van Camp said planning for the trip was certainly a challenge, but a very rewarding experience.

 “Originally I was asked to head up the meetings and kind of get things going. It was natural for me to take leadership in that area, so that was easy for me. Then in October the leader said ‘I am not sure I am going to go to Haiti, but I think you are capable of taking the team’” Van Camp explained.

“It was a little bit of a shock and I was a little bit hesitant at first to lead the team, but I knew I wanted to go back to Haiti and I knew that it was something I was willing do so I could have those same experience as last time and for other people to have the opportunity to go.”

The team, which served in the small town of Grand Goave, a 40 minute drive outside Port-au-Prince, spent their time rebuilding and painting the local technical school, as well as running the Vacation Bible School (VBS) program that provides Christ-focused camps for children over the summer.

Having travelled to Haiti only once before, Van Camp said being the team leader was somewhat overwhelming at times.

“Trying to book flights and make sure everyone had what they needed was a challenge,” she explained.

“Plus, I am only 19 years old and have only been to Haiti one other time, so I was pretty hesitant and unsure if I was adequate to be taking a group of students down to a third world country. But things worked out for us and the Lord provided in all aspects of the trip and I would definitely do it again.”

As the team prepared to serve in Haiti, one of Van Camp’s main focuses was helping the students prepare for culture shock.

“The first time I went I think that nothing could have really prepared me,” she explained. “You have no idea what you are going to see or what you are going to experience there.”

“As much as you look at pictures and study the culture it is still a huge shock when you enter into a culture that is so different from your own. So I tried to share with them as much as I could about my last experience.”

Van Camp credited Briercrest for all the support and encouragement they provided during each stage of the trip, and said the education she and her team have received from their studies at the school really helped them in their journey.

 “Briercrest has a really unique learning environment where it allows you to take university classes as well as it gives you a biblical perspective on different topics,” she said.

“So with my global studies degree (program), I have perspective on culture, language and people as well as insight from the Bible and from the professors who have experience in doing intercultural missions, which helped me a lot in Haiti.”

The community element of the school also helped the team in preparing for their trip. 

“Briercrest is a really small and close community so throughout our preparing our team became very close so by the time we went over to Haiti we were almost a family,” she explained.

An important element Van Camp feels when traveling to another culture.

“You don’t have people who understand your own experience of things you are missing. It was so important we had each other to encourage and support each other,” she said.  

“We also learnt from Briercrest the importance of depending on the Lord and actually entering into prayer and spending that time with the Lord as we learnt how to minister and serve people that weren’t of our own culture and didn’t live the same way we did.”

As leader, Van Camp said being able to experience the joy of watching her team interact with the Haitian culture was really satisfying.

“Everyone was really excited to go and just getting to see them fall in love with Haiti and to see them build relationships with people, that was pretty exciting,” she laughed.

Outside of her leadership role, Van Camp said one the greatest blessings of the trip was spending an additional four weeks in Haiti teaching English after her team flew back.  

 “Haiti has definitely changed my life in understanding how different the world is. In Canada I think we live pretty comfortably and we don’t understand what it means to live uncomfortably until we are forced to,” she explained.

“So, in my last month in Haiti I decided that I didn’t want to live comfortably as a North American because I wasn’t going to experience what it was like to live in Haitian culture. I wanted to get into their culture and build relationships with them and that takes effort and that takes time.”

Intentional about immersing herself into the culture Van Camp decided to start living like the Haitians do. Things like walking a mile to the well in order to retrieve water or take a shower, or sitting in the area of the church that didn’t’ have sand, which made it a little more uncomfortable.

 “It just really allowed me to get into their community and become established in their village and helped to create respect a little bit,” she said.

“It was just cool to see how my mind was being transformed by getting into the culture and just living different for a while.”

Since returning from the trip Van Camp has been busy as program director for Stoney Lake Bible Camp, but is planning to take a year off school and return to Grand Goave in fall for four months to continue teaching English.

Having a heart for serving overseas, Van Camp encouraged people to step outside of their comfort zones and participate in at least one mission trip in their their lifetime.

“I think whether or not people feel called to missions or serve overseas, it can be a life changing experience,” she explained.

“It is really a good thing for people to get a new perspective on the world and I think that is difficult to do when we don’t know what is going on around us.”

Van Camp explained that until someone actually goes and experiences these different things it is hard for people to understand or grasp other cultures.

“Having an opportunity to go just gives you new insight on the world and allows you to become more grateful for what you have,” she added.  

Van Camp used her experience as an example and said the joy and love the Haitians have for one another cannot be fully experienced through pictures and stories.

“They are so joyful and so grateful for everything that they have and it is cool to see them place their trust in relationships with people and the Lord because they don’t have earthly possessions or materials to rely on,” she said.

Van Camp cautioned though that to go and serve does not mean going and trying to change the culture.

“I think the biggest mistake in going overseas is trying to make them like us and change their culture. For example the Haitians actually do not want to become like us, they are so proud of their culture and country and just want to learn how to provide for themselves.”

Helping others learn and grow, whether in Haiti or not, is something Van Camp feels is in her future.

“I think God has placed a huge passion for missions on my heart. I think from the beginning I have always wanted to help serve in other countries and I really love children and people,” she said.  

“I just wanted to provide opportunities for children and people that they don’t have. I grew up having a lot of opportunities and I grew up taking education and warm water for granted and being in culture that doesn’t have those things made me have even deeper love for them.”