OTTUMWA — At first sight it looked like a regular Halloween party, but there was something more to it.

From 5-8 p.m. Saturday, Team Iowa Missions, a nonprofit organization dedicated to sharing the gospel on short-term mission trips, held a costume fundraiser party in order to raise funds to send people to Haiti.

Crystal James sang a rendition of Josh Groban’s “You Raise Me Up,” a song James dedicated to the Haitian people. Every eye widened in the crowd. The song seemed fitting to many as James’ singing encouraged people to not forget about the purpose of coming: to raise money in order to bring hope to the Haitian people.

Lisa Gillespie, one of the event organizers, leaned over with a smile and said, “Crystal truly has a beautiful voice. It was something that always made the people in Haiti smile.”

Singing was only part of the reason James was present. She came so that she could help out with the fundraiser and support the people who want to go to Haiti. Gillespie wanted to have a costume fundraiser five years ago but couldn’t because of health reasons. When the costume party fundraiser was going to happen, James knew she wanted to be involved.

“The donations people have been bringing in has been wonderful,” James said, “because they are so much in need during the political unrest. This [fundraiser] is perfect because we’ll be able to send some money down; people are starving right now because people are in a bad situation.”

James said people can find ways to serve in different areas, but it was James who felt inspired to serve overseas five years ago after Gillespie asked her to come to Haiti. “There’s a lot to do right here in your own hometown,” she said. “You’ve got so many things you can do here, locally, statewide and nationally, but it’s nice to branch out into the world.”

James and other members perform different tasks in Haiti. Some are nurses, some help build homes and teach. To James, no role is greater than the others; they all work to help one another.

“We’re quite the team because we all help each other,” she said. “We all go out and do outreach, we go to the homes and the homes have dirt floors, no electricity, no running water. They’re teaching them how to build homes. It’s not a handout but a hand up.”

James works with interpreters to teach English to the people. To her it has been a blessing to see them learn English while at the same time learn about Jesus and the Bible.

Ken and Sara Lindley have been part of Team Iowa Missions for years, choosing to serve because of the relationships they’ve built in Haiti and the insights they gained.

“It’s a profound thing to be able to go and serve in a place like Haiti,” Sara Lindley said. “The funds we are raising we want to be in a position to help our friends in Haiti; it’s very hard [their lives] and because of the political unrest.”

Ken Lindley has been to Haiti 15 times. Despite not being able to go for more than a year, he and Sara have been able to send money to the Haitian people, all to help with food, medical and school supplies and beds.

He chooses to return to Haiti because of the connections he gets to make. “We’ve got to see some of the young people grow up,” he said, “watch them help others. It’s pretty awesome.”

Sara agreed. “God has just put it on our heart to serve,” she said. “The first time I went to Haiti I didn’t know I was going to feel the way I did. There’s something special about the people in Haiti.”

Chiara Romero can be reached at


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