Columbia Salvation Army leader prepares for deployment in Haiti

Friday, January 29, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST
Major K. Kendall Mathews, the regional coordinator of The Salvation Army, is preparing to go to Haiti. He said his work there would be important because "it's not just about temporal salvation but about eternal salvation, too."

COLUMBIA — Maj. K. Kendall Mathews is packing hope, elbow grease and faith for his pending trip to Haiti.

Mathews, regional coordinator of the Salvation Army in Columbia, is preparing for deployment to Haiti to help with earthquake relief.

“I’m excited about it. I’m a little nervous, but at the same time I feel like when duty calls, as an officer and as a Christian person, I need to step up to the plate and do my part,” Mathews said. “I’m hoping to provide a sense of relief — a sense of hope.”

Mathews is on a list of 30 or more eligible Salvation Army personnel from Missouri and Southern Illinois who might be asked to leave their families for two weeks to help the people of Haiti. Mathews was notified one week ago by letter that he should make sure his passport is up to date, get the necessary vaccinations and begin a regimen of malaria medication to enter the disaster zone.

Mathews said the situation is always changing in Haiti, and he is unsure when he will leave, though his wife and daughter are excited and proud that his name is on the list.

The Salvation Army has been steadily sending small teams of five to seven people at a time to Haiti since the Jan 12 earthquake. It has claimed the lives of at least 150,000 people.

Mathews' deployment will be determined by the amount of help that is needed in Haiti when his name comes up, said William Becker, spokesman for the Salvation Army's St. Louis divisional headquarters. If Mathews goes, he is likely to serve at the Salvation Army's compound in Port-au-Prince, where this week there were 20,000 people seeking aid.

The charity has been in Haiti since 1950 and has opened schools, children’s homes, a hospital, clinics and community centers — two of which were in the Port-au-Prince area and were severely damaged by the earthquake, Becker said.

"Post 9-11 there was a big push to have everyone certified with some sort of disaster training," Becker said. Most Salvation Army personnel have now received disaster training that addresses the body and the spirit, including how to prepare food safely as well as provide emotional and spiritual care.

Mathews uses the word empowerment often when he talks about the work he envisions doing in Haiti.

“It’s not really about handing out water as much as it is about trying to give them a sense of ownership with the resources that come in,” he said.

The Salvation Army plans not only to help with the distribution of resources that have already arrived from various sources but also to help the Haitian people organize themselves so they can continue to make the flow of aid quick and efficient.

“We want to teach them how to bait the hook, want to teach them how to fish for themselves because if they can fish for themselves they’ll feed themselves for a lifetime,” Mathews said, alluding to an old saying.

Despite the devastation in Haiti, Mathews said he believes "God is present there. … People are still thankful and grateful even though hundreds of thousands of people have lost their lives. They’re still a people of faith.” 

He said he's planning to capture his experience in his journal and photos.

“I want to get as much as I can — to hear from their heart," he said. "I want to capture the essence of their emotions. I want to capture the innocence of their faith, and I think that will change me for a lifetime.”

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