At the Common Grounds coffee shop on Corban University’s Salem campus, manager Greg Bratland is surrounded by food.
Bags of potato chips and wrapped granola bars line one wall while fresh, pure bottled water is chilled to the perfect temperature on the other. Customers can buy 20-ounce mochas and grab scones out of a jar on the counter as they scurry off to classes, offices or other locations.
While they may be easy fillers for the hungry and thirsty in this country, Bratland, a youth pastor at Jefferson Evangelical Church in Jefferson, Ore., is seeing things from an entirely different perspective.
Bratland and two other adults led eight teenagers from three different churches to Port-au-Prince Haiti from Aug. 6 to 13 where they joined forces with Youth With A Mission, YWAM, to serve those who were physically and spiritually starving. The mission not only gave hope to those ravaged by the effects of a devastating earthquake in January, but also a renewed sense of purpose to Bratland and his team. It also showcased what churches can do when they join forces to serve a mighty God.
“I had been praying…and had a strong desire to do a missions trip,” Bratland said. When a youth pastor from the Abundant Life Center in Jefferson suggested a trip, Bratland knew it was God at work.
“I felt God saying ‘this is it’”, he said. “I felt the pull.”
Mission and YWAM leaders approached Jefferson Baptist Church, which stood behind the mission enthusiastically, sending one teen and supporting the trip with $7,000 raised during a special offering at the church. Bratland and others fundraised throughout the spring and summer to make the vision a reality. It was also a time to prepare the entire team for the physical and spiritual obstacles they would have to overcome.
Although they received four days of training at the YWAM base in Salem, Ore., it didn’t fully prepare everyone for the calamity they witnessed.
“Once we got into Port-au-Prince we smelled trash everywhere,” he said. “We saw collapsed buildings and rubble in the streets. When we drove down the streets and alleys…the sense of despair was overwhelming.
“No matter what you show or teach these kids, you can’t prepare them for what they really saw,” Bratland added “Many of them broke down. God worked over their hearts in a big way.”
The teens didn’t feel the impact alone. As he volunteered in a tent city, Bratland said the teams were instructed not to give water or food to people outside of designated distribution sites for fear of rioting. Following an emotional encounter with a man carrying his malnourished son, Bratland said God gave him a vision for not only his future, but that of his youth group.
“My wife and I are expecting a son,” he said. “I had to ask myself what I would do if I was in that man’s shoes and that was my son. I don’t want to sit back and do nothing. I want to be part of the solution.”
Since the team’s return, Bratland has developed a plan to encourage his youth group to tangibly serve others in their community. Additionally, Bratland said he wants to mentor the teens that went to Haiti and help them take on leadership roles within the youth group.
As he tried to think of the ways he will personally use the lessons he learned in Haiti, Bratland’s eyes looked down to the table where his hands were tightly folded. After a moment of contemplative silence, the youth pastor and coffee shop manager looked up.
“God changed my life while I was down there,” he said. “It took my perspective on what ministry was and changed it. I can’t be complacent with God. I need to go the extra mile. I would say it definitely deepened my relationship with Him.”