A first-time experience of such close loss
It’s been almost three weeks since the fateful day of Feb 7 when we lost our dear friend Alan Barry Hoffman. It’s been a long road, a first-time experience of such close loss. We’ve lost three beloved friends recently that have pierced our hearts with sorrow in the past 5 months. Pastor Rod Stutzman from Remnant Church in Washington state, was one of our very close friends for 16 years. Our children grew up together, spent summers enjoying visits and serving each other in ministry. He passed quicker than anyone expected in Oct 2020 of cancer. Desir Gai who was one of our faithful church members, played guitar for our worship team since we planted the church in 2003 and worked as our tools depot manager. He became very ill the months leading up to his death in December 2020. These two, though they were still shocking, heartbreaking and created a deep loss for us, Barry’s sudden passing has by far hit us the hardest. It was up close and very personal since our whole family found him that day where he’d fallen asleep on the rooftop and we’ve carried the responsibility for the family to do everything needed to get him back home to Canada. In normal circumstances, death of a family member or friend is hard, but when it becomes yours to carry its a whole other weight. This is an experience none of our family or ministry will forget.
Barry was strong, healthy with no indications of any kind of issues at 69 years of age. He believed he’d live another 20 years and we all thought so too. He was very active, still climbing mountains regularly with his son, coaching soccer for his grandsons, and winning championships for pickle ball. He loved traveling with his son to visit historic sites and cheer his favorite FIFA teams. And Barry came to Haiti every year for the last 6 years, sometimes more than once to serve and help wherever he could. He loved serving. That’s what he seemed to live for. Since he immigrated from Scotland in the early 1970’s to Canada, he volunteered as a firefighter then served full time for the remainder of his career until he retired. He also volunteered for Habit for Humanity, the Calgary Zoo, the Airdrie Soccer Association and was Pickle Ball Club President. Barry married his beautiful Trinidadian bride, Sherry, when they both lived in Toronto, ON. They had two kids, Andrew and Christina, that Barry loved and talked about all the time, as well as his four grandkids. He was especially proud of his newest twin granddaughters. He was very involved in his kids and grandkids lives, and made himself available to babysit or pick them up from school regularly. Jacob, his first grandson, is in the same class with our son, Austin and he would often pick them both up to hang out at his house together for an afternoon. He got us to register Austin in the same soccer camp with Jacob in the summer. Barry treated our family like an extension of his own. He loved taking our daughter Miesha out for coffee and a game of chess and use the opportunity to counsel her about life. He loved being with our family, even in the midst of us all arguing. And he was bent on coming to Haiti with us, even in the midst of a pandemic and heightened travel restrictions. He chose to spend his last month here on earth with us in Haiti and it was a special time. In January during our pastors conference he insisted that Marc and all the pastors pray for him. One evening during our family devotions he shared his whole life story with our kids. And since no other missionaries have been here with us since mid January, we spent many evenings visiting late into the night, discussing the current situation of the world, the crazy government restrictions, US politics, Haiti politics and his plans to travel soon with his son for the Europa FIFA tournament.
We don’t even know how far the reach of his friendship is. I do know that he had friends that he regularly kept in touch with and would help when he could in Chile, Brazil, Mexico, Haiti, USA and Canada. Barry was humble, not publicizing his good works and he often chose the underdogs, people others would overlook or dismiss. I do know some of those he touched. His first target on his first trip to Haiti was Rachel, the only girl on our construction work crews. He wanted to help her advance in her skills since he saw such motivation in her to work for her family. He then took special interest in Johny, one of our English translators, treating him like a son and supported him in his travels to Chile. He befriended Mackenzie, giving him advice when his carpentry business wasn’t moving forward to not put all his hope in just one profession but to diversify his talents. He sought out how he could help Nungcka further her studies beyond high school, even after she had a child. He took on sponsoring the whole Fecilien family when their mother died leaving all six kids orphaned. He worked closely with Berge to make the campus come alive with flowers and fences, teaching him how to plan beds and keep the chainsaw and other tools in working order. He was always bringing gifts for the kitchen staff like the aprons he brought down this time that looked like Scottish kilts. He also loved fixing and repairing things. He had been collecting all of the broken chairs around the campus and had repaired four, presenting them to the ladies in the kitchen and a special one to Archange, our school principal, on his birthday just a week before he passed. He loved going to watch a soccer match anywhere, any day and would often plan with Ronald or Francky for a Sunday afternoon to spend with them for that purpose. He had asked Archange if he had a TV at his house and invited himself over for the next game to his place.
Barry knew how to make friends. He loved joking, teasing and sometimes scaring his friends with fake snakes and spiders. He loved sharing his knowledge and experience and teaching others. Marc and Barry had that kind of friendship and Marc considered him one of his best friends. He would often come by our house to pick up Marc to go watch a soccer match or take him to a historic movie. He’d come to help with repairs or planting flowers in our yard or just join us for a good cup of coffee and share current news with us. He would find articles or current news about Haiti or have political debates with Marc just to get him riled up. I’m sure this is how Barry lived with all of his friends. He cared for people, made people laugh and always sought out who else he could help. I’ve learned a lot by observing his selfless, humble acts of service and giving of his time just to be with others. He was uncomplicated. Dealing with death is never easy, although we all know it’s eminent. This experience marked us deeply because it happened on our watch, in our Haiti ARISE guesthouse and it is the first time we’ve ever lost a visiting missionary and such a close friend. Our hearts go out to Barry’s dear family and friends that did not get the chance to see him in the last month. But we do know that Barry kept in touch with many friends and his family as regularly as he could. His daughter, Christina, asked me to check his phone for contacts & pictures and it made me smile as I scrolled through many of his WhatsApp messages looking for phone numbers of his friends to give her, because he was telling everyone how much he was enjoying his “time in paradise" here in Haiti. Though the Canadian restriction were really bothering him, and we could tell he was beginning to think a lot about missing his family and wondering how he was going to get back without having to be quarantined in a government facility, he was so happy to be here. He was at peace and enjoying freedom of visiting friends, going to soccer games, working on patching fences, planting flowers and marking out our soccer field and basketball courts for the school campus. Even the day that he passed, he had very clear plans to enjoy the afternoon sun, with his book, cup of coffee, a blanket and pillow. He arranged a comfortable spot on the roof top and after reading his book for a while, he changed his reading glasses for sunglasses and decided to take a rest. He never woke up.
This we are sure of, that Barry is basking in the light of the true Son, celebrating in paradise now and forever. We will miss you, Alan Barry Hoffman. Until we meet again, we will be keeping you in our hearts and memories. For Haiti ARISE, your name will not be forgotten. We have opened a Legacy Fund for anyone who may want to donate in honor of his name through Haiti ARISE, in which we committed to help the Hoffman family with the expense to get Barry home and anything above and beyond we would like to put towards establishing the soccer field at Haiti ARISE in Grand-Goave that will be named in his honor : Hoffman Field. We also hope that we will be able to continue to assist many of the young people and families that Barry supported in Haiti. We love you Barry and we love you all Hoffman/ Newman family- Sherry, Andrew, Jamie, Christina, and the four grandkids, our prayers and thoughts are with you.
ALAN BARRY HOFFMAN
1951 - 2021