CHARLESTON, S.C. - Spring Break is traditionally an opportunity for students to rest, relax, recover, and get ready for the end of year exam preparations that will await them when they return to campus. For Austin Talbott, Seth Harrelson, Landon Sayegh, Nick Sands, and DJ Curl, the break was an opportunity to team up with Filter of Hope for a trip to Montrouis, Haiti to disperse water filters and share the Gospel.
The CSU quintet, featuring Buccaneer football players and alum, spent March 5-11 working in the Haitian Republic with fellow students from Ball State University and the University of South Carolina in an area known as the Fifth Section.
For Talbott, this was his second trip with Filter of Hope after learning about the organization previously in 2015 through a professor at CSU.
"I went on a trip with Filter of Hope in June of 2015 to the Dominican Republic with Filter of Hope after learning about the opportunity from a professor here in one of my classes," Talbott said. "When she spoke to me about the mission's trip and asked if I wanted to go, I said yes. Working with Filter of Hope, dispersing the clean water filters and sharing the gospel, I really, really enjoyed the opportunity."
He continued, "While I was there, I kept thinking about the guys here on the football team who I thought would do a really great job on a trip like that. My first trip was with a really big group and I felt that held us back a little bit on what we could have achieved. When I came back to Charleston, I had a group of eight guys I was talking to that I thought could join me and be sold out for this trip. Four weren't able to go for various reasons, but the five of us who went; we just had a great time."
Armed with a number of filters that Talbott had already sold through the Filter of Hope organization, the five friends prayed about the trip and narrowed their destination down to the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Throughout the process, though, it was clear that all five were completely sold out on their mission as they decided on the trip to Haiti.
"There were a few guys in our group who had never been out of the country," Talbott commented. "Two had never been out of the country before and one had never been on a mission trip, but the guys were completely invested throughout the trip. We took 74 filters with us on this trip to distribute over our five days, and even Filter of Hope was telling us that we might not be able to get all of those out because you don't just drop a filter off and leave. You stay there and fellowship with the families. Not only did we get all of our filters out, but we also gave out an additional two that were given to us by another team."
Distributing the quantity of filters was exciting to Talbott, but he was even more encouraged by the growth and development of his friends throughout the week.
"Seth and Landon are both quiet guys. To see Seth stepping up and preaching the gospel to 60-plus kids was amazing," he said. "DJ is known around campus for his faith and how solid he is, and he was in his element and just jumped right in. Landon just stepped up and worked through his shyness and it was just powerful to see how he distributed the filters and shared the gospel. Watching Nick too, it was just moving to me to see and do life and missions with these guys."
The group hit the ground running when they arrived with a full slate ahead of them during their week on the ground.
The typical day for the five guys included waking up around 6:30 a.m. for breakfast and time to get into the Word, before loading up the flatbed truck between 7:45 – 8 a.m. From there, it was a two-hour commute into the Fifth Section where they would spend a majority of the day working with the local translators and the residents, distributing filters, teaching how to operate them, and sharing the love of Christ.
For Harrelson, life in the Fifth Section was humbling and eye-opening.
"We would get there around 10 a.m. and break off into groups with our translators and pray," he commented. "The Fifth Section is one of the poorest places in Haiti and the community there essentially lives and drinks out of the river that runs through the section. They live in mud houses with whatever they can find for a roof, and it was just a humbling experience seeing everything they go through."
"Distributing the filters and using them to explain the Gospel was just amazing," he continued. "They were very visual in their understanding. Being able to explain through our awesome translators the process of how we are like the water and can't become clean by ourselves, but like the water becomes clean when it goes through the filter, we also become clean through Him. It was just a powerful tool that we were able to showcase and demonstrate the love of Christ."
Due to local political unrest, the group would wrap up their work day around 4 p.m. and get back on the truck to return before nightfall. A nightly debriefing would take place with the various groups sharing their interactions with each other and discussing the areas they had worked and observed throughout the day.
The group worked closely with one of the local pastors in the area, Pastor Bo, during their time in the Fifth Section. Pastor Bo went through an ordeal when he was first called to the area but now oversees a vibrant church and school with 200 members and 200 kids learning about the Gospel every day.
Personally working with Pastor Bo made a huge impact on the entire group.
"Hearing his testimony was pretty huge for us," Talbott said. "Just to see his obedience and his humbleness for the people was kind of eye-opening and really defined to us on what it means to love others as yourself."
Harrelson agreed, "We actually rose about an extra $1,200 or $1,300 more than we needed for the trip altogether. Pastor Bo's testimony really moved us and we could see the good work he was doing. With the rainy season about to come and the river rising, we decided to give all of our extra to him and his church to help them attempt to fix the riverbank to protect their crops."
Haiti pushed the group outside of their personal comfort zones as all members experienced personal growth and development through the trip.
"I'm a pretty shy guy; I'm not super outgoing," Harrelson admitted. "I knew going into this trip I needed to do what the Lord wanted me to do and get out of my comfort zone and put forth the effort. Knowing the Gospel and being saturated in His word daily with the guys on this trip really helped out a lot. The whole reason we were there was to share the love of Christ and getting to spend time with the people really was a blessing."
"We came back with these bracelets and every time I see it, I'm reminded to just send up a prayer for the people I met, interacted with, and bonded on the trip," he continued. "There was this 11-year-old kid who really bonded with me and for three straight days just held my hand and wouldn't let go. He would point to something and say the word in Creole, and I would say it in English because he was just so eager to learn and share. It was pretty cool and just a really awesome thing I got to experience on the trip."
For Talbott, the bonding and growth within the group fulfilled the original dream he foresaw when he made his first trip back in 2015.
"We were very unified on this trip," Talbott commented. "There were other teams commenting and asking us what was different about us. The Lord was definitely with us and we got to experience and share the joys of working with the people during the trip."
"Right now, I have a hunger for missions and I'm ready to get back out there and do more," he continued. "You go on this trip to give clean water and share the Gospel and hope their hearts will change for the Lord, but man, I feel the joy and the high from telling someone about Jesus. Going and sharing eternal life with somebody is just joyful to your soul."
Although Spring Break is over and all five are back in classes, and some, in spring practices, the love for the people and their collective heart for missions already has them planning their next trip.
"DJ and Landon were both talking about how we need to make this a yearly thing," Talbott said. "I hope 35 years from now when we're all married with kids, we'll be taking our families every year. That would be awesome to do with all of us together."
Harrelson agreed, "The day we were leaving, we really didn't want to go. We wanted to go ahead and start planning another trip to start coming back. If we can get back in six months, a year, however long it takes, I can't wait to see the people we've shared with and what the Lord has done in their lives."
To learn more about the Filter of Hope, click HERE.