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Red Wing's Larson returning to Haiti

Red Wing resident Jon Larson said the day he left Haiti after the earthquake that killed his cousin and best friend, Ben Splichal Larson, along with nearly a quarter million others last January, was one of the worst days of his life.

On Saturday, Jon, along with Ben's widow Renee Splichal Larson, left Minnesota to return to Haiti for the first time since Ben died.

"The thought of going back (brings) a spectrum of emotions," Jon said. "(We're) excited to be with (the Haitians), but it's physically sickening, really hard."

Jon and Renee are joining a group of about 10 people from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. They will spend a week in Haiti, just "being with the people," Jon said.

"When we were there, we met a lot of friends and made strong connections with the Lutheran church. We intend to go back and see a lot of those pastors," Jon said. "This is a trip about relationships."

A second reason for the trip is advocacy for the Haitians, Jon said. "(It's about) getting the word out to the U.S. about the state of Haiti," he said.

He wants Americans to know that people are still living in tent cities and the fear of another earthquake is still strong for them, he said.

The earthquake

But the trip is also about revisiting the site where Ben was killed. And about being with Mytch and Louis Dorvilier, a Haitian couple that helped coordinate efforts to recover Ben's body.

Jon, Renee and Ben were in Haiti last January as part of a mission trip. When the earthquake hit, Jon and Renee saw Ben buried in rubble. While Jon and Renee were able to dig themselves out of the building they were in, they had to leave Ben behind.

"We knew (he was dead), but you still cling to hope... that there was an air pocket or we just couldn't hear him," Jon said.

Because the U.S. Embassy was so crowded with others, Jon and Renee couldn't get help to dig Ben's body out. What's more, the building was too unstable to go in themselves.

When they were evacuated to the United States three days after the earthquake, Ben's body was still buried in the rubble.

The Dorviliers helped recruit other Haitians to get Ben's body out. Jon says the Haitians' willingness to help him and Renee, even though the Haitians had family members of their own buried in the rubble, is just an example of the sense of unity that is alive in Haiti.

"They're a people that have hope. In such desperate circumstances, community is more apparent," Jon said.

It's about the relationships

Mytch currently lives in Chicago with the couple's children and will join Jon and Renee on their trip. Louis, who works for the Lutheran World Foundation, lives in Haiti. Renee and Jon will stay with him while they're there.

Jon says this trip to Haiti is just the first of many. The relationships he has made with people there will continue to draw him, he said.

"I'm going to continue to go back for the rest of my life," he said.

After the trip

Once he returns from Haiti at the end of February, Jon Larson will begin a new position as associate pastor at Faith Lutheran Church in Bismark, ND. Jon graduated from Wartburg Seminary in May 2010 with a Masters of Divinity. "I made a connection with Faith Lutheran Church in Bismark," Jon said of his choice to move there. He will begin his new position the first week in March.

Renee Splichal Larson is currently a pastor in Mandan, ND, a neighbor city to Bismark.

Sarah Gorvin
Sarah Gorvin has been with the Republican Eagle for two years and covers education, business and crime and courts. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in 2010 with a  journalism degree.