Local couple moves to Haiti to lend a hand


BRATTLEBORO -- In 2005, Neil Stetson, who was then the pastor of Community Bible Chapel in Brattleboro, and his wife, Rosemary, made their first service trip to Haiti. Each year thereafter Stetson and his wife arranged for a team from the region to make a service trip to Haiti, but two years after an earthquake ravaged the island nation, he resigned his position as pastor and a year later he and his wife moved to Haiti.

Stetson described their decision to move there full time as a spiritual evolution.

"It was a combination of things. There is this extreme need and I felt like we had the gift of experience and we could be helpful. And then there is the love of the Haitian people. They are wonderful people and I felt the Lord could use us to make a difference."

Stetson said he and his wife, who are both 66, plan to remain in Haiti "As long as we can be useful and we have our health."

The hardest part for the pair has been to leave their three grown children and six grandchildren behind.

"They support us," he said. "At the same time they don't like having us be gone so far away."

The Stetson's are part of the Baptist Haiti Mission, which was founded in 1943 and partners with local leaders to educate, care for and minister to Haitians. The mission now includes more than 330 schools and churches, a hospital, a number of medical clinics and community development programs.

Stetson is the campus pastor at the mission's main base in Fermathe. But, he said, his real day job is facility manager of the campus' hospital and school.

"It's a big facility and there are a lot of things to repair," he said.

Stetson has a background in the construction trades and was an electrician for a number of years.

Rosemary is the executive assistant to the field director of the mission.

For the past two weeks, the couple was in Brattleboro stuffing a container with donations, most notably, office equipment from Entergy Vermont Yankee.

On July 11, at the Riverside Industrial Center a group of Vermont Yankee employees and volunteers from the Baptist Haiti Mission finished loading a Sea Land container for shipment to Haiti. Entergy Vermont Yankee has been donating items deemed surplus, given the plant's scheduled shutdown at the end of this year, to local non-profit organizations, schools and volunteer fire departments.

"Entergy has an investment recovery policy in order to be good stewards to the community and the environment," said Rob Williams, spokesman for Yankee. "We assess materials no longer needed at our facilities but that still have a useful life to our community partners for potential donation. Here at Yankee, that includes items such as office furniture and materials and storage units."

The items donated to the Baptist Haiti Mission are meant to replace termite-ridden desks and cardboard storage boxes.

"Used office furniture from Vermont Yankee will be deployed to schools so students have a stable work surface and teachers can properly store manuals, testing materials and supplies off the ground away from dampness and mold," stated a press release from the Baptist Haiti Mission.

"We are so grateful to Entergy for all they've done to help the people in Haiti," said Rosemary Stetson.

Neil Stetson said the donation of used office equipment is appreciated, but it wouldn't have mattered much if Entergy had not also paid to have the container shipped to Haiti.

"Our resources are limited. This was a huge gift."

Despite the poverty in Haiti, he said the spirit of the Haitians is unbowed.

"The Haitian community has a proverb: 'A cooked meal has no owner.' When they get food, they will invite the rest of the community and everybody gets some. Yes, there has been shared suffering, but they also share their resources."

The Stetsons return to Haiti on July 20 and probably won't be back in Brattleboro for another year or so, but if you would like to keep track of their activity in Haiti, you can follow them at stetsonssojourn.com or look for them on Facebook. To learn more about Baptist Haiti Mission, or to donate, visit bhm.org.

Bob Audette can be reached at raudette@reformer.com, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Follow Bob on Twitter @audette.reformer.


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