Randy Hite knew Florida was hit hard by hurricanes Frances, Jeanne, Charley and Ivan, but he still was shocked to see the severity of the damage on a recent mission trip to the area.
"My biggest thought was, 'We've got a lot of work to do,' " said Hite, 53. "There is a mistaken attitude that everything has been taken care of, but they still have major, major problems."From the highway, he noticed two out of three houses covered with blue tarps. As they entered lower-income areas, the damage was greater.
"Entire mobile home parks were destroyed," Hite said. "There is the potential for thousands of homeless if something is not done."
Hite, a member of Vandalia Presbyterian Church, organized the mission team after talking with his friend and former pastor Larry Graham-Johnson, who lives in Florida. Graham-Johnson is the disaster-relief coordinator for the Presbytery of Tropical Florida. He and Hite have been on mission trips to Peru and Tennessee together.
"Randy sees a need and immediately begins to think in terms of how to respond," Graham-Johnson said.
That's just what Hite did. As soon as he heard of the great need in the Fort Pierce area of Florida, he set about organizing a mission trip. He talked with the Salem Presbytery, the regional office for more than 100 Presbyterian churches in central and western North Carolina, and it adopted Hite's idea as a project. Hite printed brochures and recruited his team, which includes four men and women from churches in Winston-Salem and Siler City. His relief effort is called Partners in Recovery.
Hite's team left for Fort Pierce on Nov. 12 and spent nine days helping repair the roof of First Presbyterian Church, a church whose congregation is predominantly older adults. They had planned to stay in the church's fellowship hall during the work, but church members eagerly invited the volunteers to stay in their homes. The women of the church prepared them home-cooked meals each evening.
"They said it was so hard for them to be on the receiving end of help," Hite said. "They were extremely gracious and giving, and the relationships we built during our time there are worth gold."
Hite, owner of Piedmont Property Services in Thomas-ville, is not new to missionary work. He founded Open Door Action Ministries three years ago to raise funds to send people on mission trips.
He has helped organize and been on numerous mission trips to Nicaragua, northern Peru and central Mexico and has done domestic work in eastern Tennessee.
"The primary gift I have from God is a servant's attitude," Hite said. "I receive a lot from helping others; I get 10 times back."
Hite sees himself as a facilitator, encouraging and helping others find their way to the mission field.
"I know how much that first trip changed me," he said. "I want as many people as possible to have that same opportunity."
Hite's dedication to this type of work did not come until later in life. "I had been led in that direction but had resisted it," he said.
Raised in the United Methodist church, Hite studied recreation resource administration in college with plans of working in youth ministry. As time went on, he turned his focus in other directions and became a small-business owner.
"The calling was always there to go into mission work," he said.
Looking back, Hite believes God used that time to prepare him for the mission field. "A lot of the skills in ministry I learned in business," he said.
About nine years ago, Hite decided he had put it off long enough. It was time to try international mission work.
He and his wife went to Peru, where he found a primitive lifestyle, with people living in grass huts with dirt floors. He spent eight days there traveling up and down the rivers, ministering to villages of 5,000-plus people. He was most amazed with the native people. "They were striving for the same things we do, just at the bottom level," Hite said.
This inaugural trip to Peru changed him.
"The person that went did not come back," he said. "I came away with an understanding that materially they have so little, but they have so much in their family units and faith."
Upon his return to the United States, Hite sold the insurance agency he owned and decided to commit his life more to mission work.
"It's the fulfilling of a life-long calling," he said. "I try to see firsthand what people are facing, bring their story back and help others reach out to help those in need through mission work."
Lois Bazhaw, congregational nurse at Vandalia, has participated in mission work with Hite and has great respect for his faithful attitude and hard work.
"Somebody's got to take the lead," she said. "He's energetic and feels like it's his call to outreach to folks in unfortunate situations. He's trying to show what he believes."
Hite is already planning his next hurricane relief trip to Florida, probably in January, with more to follow. The trips are open to all faith communities. Participants are responsible for their travel and food costs. Housing, tools and supplies are normally provided.
Graham-Johnson is looking forward to his friend's return to the Fort Pierce area.
"He's the piper of missions," Graham-Johnson said. "It's spirit uplifting knowing I have someone like this to count on. To me, this is what church is."
\ Contact Jennifer Atkins Brown at 574-5582 or email@example.com