Lawrence couple grapples with Haiti’s earthquake devastation after bringing friend’s body back to U.S.

Joe and Rev. Shirley Edgerton survived the devastating Haiti earthquake while visiting the island working on a mission trip.

A trip to Haiti ended sadly for two Lawrence church missionaries last month, when they had to identify the body of a prominent church leader and bring his corpse home to his family.

“It was very devastating to us,” said Joe Edgerton, a member of Central United Methodist Church, who was in Haiti with his wife, the Rev. Shirley Edgerton, when the massive Jan. 12 earthquake struck. “We’d worked with Sam off and on for a number of years and knew him fairly well.”

Rev. Sam Dixon

Their friend, the Rev. Sam Dixon, had been trapped under a collapsed three-story hotel in Port-au-Prince. When rescuers found him three days later, he was dead.

Dixon was an executive of United Methodist Global Ministries, the global mission agency of the United Methodist Church based in New York. Two other men he was with were rescued from the rubble, though one of the men, the Rev. Clinton Rabb, later died.

“They were confined and under the rubble for about 55 hours, and during that time, both Clint and Sam had a large portion of the roof, of concrete, which was across their legs,” said Shirley Edgerton, a retired pastor and nurse.

The Edgertons, of Baldwin City, had just wrapped up a meeting with the executives ahead of the earthquake, which is estimated to have killed 230,000 people.

Joe Edgerton was among those who traveled to the Montana Hotel to look for the missing church leaders, who were in the country to re-strengthen a weakened relationship with the Methodist Church of Haiti.

“It was total destruction. It was completely rubble,” Joe Edgerton said of the hotel. “I had a pretty good idea where they might be, but there was nothing you could do.”

He said he found three other unidentified bodies in the rubble during his limited search efforts and then was forced to wait two days for search-and-rescue experts to come to the scene.

“We began to look for him, and when we went up to the Montana again, we identified the body, and then reported it to the embassy,” Shirley Edgerton said.

The couple returned to the United States on Jan. 20, accompanying a flight that was arranged to bring Dixon’s body home.

Since returning home, the Edgertons have spent their time trying to contact people they knew in Haiti from the two years they volunteered in the country, and have also been training other United Methodist relief workers on what they can expect when they travel to Haiti to help.

“We haven’t really sat down and just kind of called it quits for a while,” said Joe Edgerton. “We’ve kept fairly busy and probably haven’t really sat down and faced it yet.”

The couple hope to return to Haiti in April, but said they’ll first seek the permission of their families, who worry about their safety each time they travel to the country.