A mission trip, organized by the Southwest Missouri-based Christ In Youth, has sparked a new ministry designed to provide food for those in need in Haiti.
Since July, volunteers working with Backpack Haiti have spent time in the country providing meals for food-insecure families through a program similar to those found in public schools.
Kelsi Anderson, founder, developed the idea after going on the CIY mission trip in July 2017.
Anderson said her heart “shattered” as she saw examples of extreme malnutrition among the Haitian children.
“I felt like God was calling me to do something when I got back to the states,” Anderson said. “The idea for this program came to my mind. I said “OK God, let’s see what we can do.”
On Saturday, Feb. 8, Backpack Haiti is partnering with Panera in Joplin. Between the hours of 4 and 8 p.m., Panera will give the ministry 20 percent of sales when customers mention Backpack Haiti.
Creating a ministry
After she returned to the states, Anderson began to iron out the details for the ministry, while working with a nonprofit organization connected with Luke 101, a Georgia-based ministry.
With Luke 101 as the sponsoring nonprofit, Anderson’s team works with H.O.M.E.Land Christian Church, part of the Haitian Outreach Ministry of Evangelism, in Trianon, Haiti.
Every two weeks, a member of the H.O.M.E. team works to distribute the food to sponsored families.
Backpack Haiti provides supplemental meals — called Mana Packs — that contain a mixture of vitamins and minerals often missing in food the sponsored families eat.
Initially, five families with a total of 36 people, ranging from 2 to 46 years old, were invited to join the program.
One of Anderson’s goals is to order the food used by the ministry in country in order to reduce the cost. She said the country’s political climate often dictates what ministry officials can purchase for the families.
At each food distribution, family members are weighed. That information is tracked by Anderson, who uses it to track each family’s progress and to make necessary adjustments to what they receive based upon their health needs.
In December, the group added 10 additional families to the ministry. This increased the monthly cost from $250 to $700.
Growing in faith
Going to Haiti changed Anderson’s life.
“I learned God is way bigger than I ever imagined,” Anderson said. “It let me see the capacity of God’s work.”
Anderson said she asked God to “break my heart for what breaks his.” Through that prayer, God began to open her eyes for possible outreaches in Haiti.
“When you pray that prayer, God does just that,” Anderson said. “God shattered my heart. When it comes to Haiti, it has a special place in my heart. To be called to continually serve, while living in the middle of the U.S., and God uses you to be his hands and feet — that’s a cool thing.”
From this, Anderson said, she learned how God can use someone, no matter what, to make a difference — even a 23-year-old from Fremont, Nebraska.
Anderson serves as the founder and director for the ministry. Her partners include Conner McKenzie, a student at Ozark Christian College, and R.J. Olmstead, a student at Arizona Christian University.
McKenzie focuses on social media. He’s also served as Anderson’s sounding board as Backpack Haiti grew from idea to ministry. Olmstead works as the ministry’s business outreach person, helping to find sponsors to support the ministry’s financial needs.
Like Anderson, McKenzie said its been both humbling and heartbreaking to see the needs in Haiti. His goal is to grow sponsors through the ministry’s Facebook and Instagram channels.
Anderson hopes the ministry will become it’s own 501(c)(3) within the next year. She also hopes to add additional families, with a goal of having 10 more by December 2020.
“I continue to pray about God’s mission and plan for this program,” Anderson said. “Whatever the program outcome, I always want it to bring glory for him.
“I want it to bring hope in the darkness. I want families to find hope and see Jesus as the light in the darkness.”
McKenzie hopes the ministry continues to meet the nutritional needs for families, as well as give members of the H.O.M.E. team an opportunity speak the gospel into the lives the ministry serves.
“This is much more than a nutritional program,” McKenzie said. “It paves the way for our brothers and sisters in Haiti to share the gospel.”
Backpack Haiti is a sponsored ministry through Luke 101. For more information, persons interested may visit www.backpackhaiti.com or @backpackhaiti on Facebook or Instagram.