Danielle Wilhoit says she has been changed by her experiences during a summer mission trip to Haiti. Danielle is a senior at Madison consolidated High School. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
Danielle Wilhoit says she has been changed by her experiences during a summer mission trip to Haiti. Danielle is a senior at Madison consolidated High School. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
Danielle Wilhoit went to a Christian concert several years ago to enjoy the music and, hopefully, hear the Gospel.

What she didn't expect was to find a calling.

"I walked past a missions group booth (at the concert) and they were talking about where they had been, what they had done and who they helped," she said. "I knew I wanted to do that too.

"Danielle, a 17-year-old senior at Madison Consolidated High School, said she was ready to experience something different, but added, "I really wanted to go and get a bigger view of things than what I have here in America."

"Here, so much is easy and our priorities are what they are because we are where we are. I thought that if I went somewhere else in the world, it would grow my gratitude for what I have," she said.

Danielle's mother, Angie Hutchinson, said she wasn't sure at first if the desire to do mission work was going to turn into anything real, but she found that her daughter wasn't just talking ... she was planning, organizing and fundraising the project.

"I raised the $2,500 by selling peel-to-save cards, by writing and talking to church groups for support and everything else I could do. It took me about a year-and-a-half to raise the money," Danielle said.

"At first we didn't know if she'd actually go on a trip," Hutchinson said of her daughter's pursuit. "But then with every new part of the process, raising the money, finding the mission group to go with, packing for the trip and all - it just got more intense and emotional with each step. It was really hard letting her get on that plane."

Danielle partnered with Global Compassion Network, an Iowa-based Christian missions group that was started by a group trying to help orphans in the town of Les Cayes, Haiti.

The other people on her team were from Indiana, Washington state and Iowa. On their first day in the town, her team built some of the "Safe T Homes" in what is called the Village of Hope, a growing community for orphans, widows and displaced families in Les Cayes.

"I wasn't as strong as some of the other workers, but they had a lot of small jobs that I could help with," Danielle said.

She described the specially made homes as efficient metal silo-like buildings with heat reflecting roofs, which also work as water collection systems. She said the anchors to the buildings can also be used as planters in which to grow food.

"The (heat reflecting) roofs were amazing," she said. "You would think it would be hot but it was so much cooler inside that it felt like air conditioning in there."

The rest of the week she and her team worked at the Consolation Center, an orphanage for girls where about 50 girls are given an education and a home, and at the James 1:27 Widows & Infants Village.

"Every girl at the Consolation Center had a unique story or circumstance. There's so much need. We just loved on the kids and one day we took them swimming.

"We went to a church service on the Sunday that we were there. It was in Creole and we had a translator, but they couldn't translate everything quick enough. But it was cool, we could recognize some of the songs by the music so they sang and Creole and we sang along in English," Danielle said.

She said she was surprised how quickly she grew attached to the people in Haiti.

"I felt like, if I didn't have to leave, I would have never come back. A lot of people before I went said, 'Oh, Haiti is going to be devastating. You're going to cry,'" she said. "But I couldn't cry. Everybody was happy.

"When I got there I realized that there are a lot of bad things that you see in Haiti - more than I could tell you about. But people are happier in Haiti than we are here a lot of the time. And they are thankful and they definitely work for what they want and for what they need.

"Here (in America) we get on Facebook and see all this negativity and we complain about everything. But in Haiti, I'm visiting the girls in the orphanage and they are happy. They're ecstatic just because people are there to see them and sit with them and hug on them."

Danielle became aware of the difference in attitudes in Haiti and the U.S. She said it is the difference in perspective. "They actually live based on what they need today. They live day-to-day because that's all they can do. Here we are worried so much about tomorrow. All the time we're thinking of the future.

"In Haiti, they have been reminded again and again and again and again that tomorrow's not guaranteed. It makes them much more free-spirited and less worried."

Danielle said returning home gave her a reverse culture shock. "I got back and when I heard people complaining that they didn't have nice enough rims on their car, I just didn't know how to react to that. People don't change around you just because you've been changed."

Danielle said she also discovered the joy of face-to-face communication while she was in Haiti. "Teens there aren't talking to each other by texting on their phones. They are looking each other in the eye.

"Before I went, I thought I couldn't live without my cell phone. I thought I couldn't make it without checking every five minutes. Now that I'm back I don't say, 'Just text me. Just text me.' Now I want to sit down and talk with people a lot more.

Danielle said there may be trips to even farther away places in her future. If Haiti made such a big difference in her heart, she wonders what else she might discover.

Whether she goes back to Haiti or to somewhere in Africa, or lives as a missionary in her own neighborhood, though, she says it's ultimately not up to her. "It's whatever God wants me to do."