In the Haiti Earthquake

**You  can see this via video HERE**

When faced with an unexpected and unprecedented opportunity to serve the entire Jewish people, and save them from certain death, Esther was encouraged to see her situation as a divine appointment in God’s plans. Her uncle persuaded her to action by reminding her that perhaps God had placed her where she was, when she was, for such a time as this.

Never have those words rang truer in my heart and in my life than on January 12, 2010, and in the days to follow.

I was in Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere.  There were many reasons I came to Haiti.

I came to encourage some full-time, on-site missionaries at Christianville (near Gressier), at Pouille (north of Maribolieas), and at World Harvest Orphanage in Port au Prince.

I came as part of a preaching team, of whom I was the youngest and most inexperienced. (Though, unarguably, the best-looking.)

I came to preach and teach local church leaders on various topics about the church and to discuss the increasing presence of voo doo in their communities.

I came to give away money and help some friends and family members take ownership of my love and passion for the Haitian people.

I didn’t come to get caught in the middle of what is being called the worst natural disaster in recorded history. (I think The Flood was worse…)

I didn’t come to find myself less than 10 miles from the epicenter of the 7.0 earthquake that decimated Haiti a few minutes before 5 on January 12.

I didn’t come to find myself face to face with death, destruction, pain, fear, anguish and confusion.

But I have come to realize that God counted us worthy to serve the people of Haiti, specifically the people of Gressier/Leogane, in their greatest hour of need.  God counted us worthy to serve beside some of the most phenomenal and real and raw Christ-followers I have ever known.  God considered us worthy to place us in Haiti for such a time as this.

This is the story.  Not my story alone, but the story of 26 Americans and thousands of Haitians that walked through the darkest hours of our lives, seeking the light that only comes through Jesus.

Just hours before the chaos, we were face to face with the reality of pre-earthquake Haiti, which was not that great to begin with. Most of the preaching team, and a few others, took an afternoon trip to a place called Val’s orphanage.  Val’s was about a 30 minute drive from where we were staying at Christianville.

Riding anywhere in Haiti is rough.  Roads are not really roads in Haiti. Sure, there are a few good ones, but most of them are glorified dirt paths.  The trees are cleared, but the rocks aren’t.  Needless to say, it is a bumpy, jarring ride.

The orphanage was not a real pretty sight, when looking at it with American eyes.  Cement walls, dormitory style sleeping arrangements, dirty feet and floors.  But when looking through Haitian eyes, this was AWESOME for parent-less children who had nothing.  Here they had food to eat, a roof to sleep under, clean water from a deep well, actual mattresses to sleep on and four amazing ladies who cared deeply for them. For the 28 children who lived here, this was paradise.

My miniature HD video camera was my friend as I interviewed child after child.  My Creole is pretty weak, but I could ask most of them there name and exchange a few other pleasantries.  They showed me their rooms, their well and their goats and chickens.

I had the blessing of watching and recording as other members of my team distributed Christmas gifts to these beautiful children.  We left, promising to return on Saturday and see them again.

Just down the road from the orphanage, around the corner really, is a football field.  (What Americans call soccer.)  We had a soccer ball in the truck, so we tossed it out and one of our guys jumped out to kick it around with some of the Haitian for a few minutes.  We had no idea that when we saw that field 10 minutes later, that instead of laughter and play, we would hear wails of distress and panic.

Just down the road a little further was when the earth began to shake.  It wasn’t as noticeable in the back of the truck, but the driver told us later that he began to lose control of the vehicle. Driving on Haitian roads already that day, we were accustomed to “out of control”.

We noticed a roof first. It was a metal roof on a house just off the road. It was shaking violently.  In fact, it was shaking so hard it seemed as if some screaming child was throwing a tantrum and jostling a toy around.

Our first thought was wind, but we didn’t feel ANY wind, much less wind that strong.  As we noticed dust rising, the word earthquake came to mind.

Our immediate reaction was to turn around to check on the orphanage.  The first houses we saw had a lot of damage.  Major cracks, walls partially collapsed, but not too much panic. As we came to the football field, just across from it we saw the first of many flattened houses. As we stopped, we heard the first of many cries of despair and desperation.  “Anmwe!”

Their cries and motions were directed at the house, and we saw firsthand what so many of you saw on repeated newscasts.  There was a group of men on the collapsed roof pulling rubble away looking for the people who were in the house when it fell. We tried to help, but were not allowed by the Haitian men there. Half the group went back to the orphanage, while half of us stayed, trying to convince the Haitians to allow us to help. They didn’t, but we were there to see one lady pulled out of the building alive and well, yet stark naked and half-crazed about who was still in the house. We rejoiced, but the search continued for the others that were trapped in the rubble.

We had just begun praying with a few of the Haitians when the truck rolled up and we loaded up to head back to Christianville. That’s when we got news of the orphanage. It was completely destroyed. Flattened.  In the chaos directly following the earthquake we only found two of the orphans. We had no news of the rest of the orphans, or their four Haitian caretakers until 3 days later. Praise Jesus, they were ALL alive and living in the chicken house.

As we drove to Christianville to find out the status of the rest of our team, we began to pray. On an uncomfortable bench, in the middle of a bumpy ride, with dust and screams rising around us, we began to seek God’s wisdom, and express our gratitude, and ask for His protection for those orphans. We still didn’t know how localized the earthquake was, or how many others were affected. But we prayed, wept, and listened as we drove back to Christianville, not sure what we would be finding there.

The first news at the gate was that all of our American companions were safe! This was especially a relief for Jeff, Rita and Beverly who had their family at Christianville.  But there were injured and hurt people.  As those with lacerations, broken bones, and a wide array of injuries began to come in, we started to realize that this was more serious than we initially expected.

As we talked to those who had been at Christianville, we got news that much of Chrisitianville had been destroyed. The high school, elementary school, dental, eye, and medical clinics, much of the housing, the university, the Academy: all demolished. Dr. Jim Wilkins and his wife, Sandy barely escaped their crumbling apartment by jumping from a 2nd story balcony. The damage was catastrophic, and the injuries were massive and numerous.

Somewhere in this initial craziness, I managed to get my phone and send a text message to my wife, letting her know we were safe and unharmed. At first, I didn’t think much of it, but later we realized that I had the only working cell phone for the 26 Americans at Christianville.

We realized that the injuries coming to Christian were not going to slow down, even as darkness was approaching, so we had to set up some sort of system to see the patients that would keep things calm and organized. We picked a spot in the open area where we were, and began seating patients there, with the non-patients in another area.  We closed the gate, and began limiting access to those who injured.

I spoke enough Creole to get me in trouble, so I was assigned to the gate. I knew enough to say, “If you can walk, you can enter by yourself” and “If you can’t walk, you can enter with one person.” I helped support, carry and guide the wounded, crippled, dying and dead to the medical team. It was heart-breaking to have to turn away the un-injured, yet scared and confused people who just wanted to be inside the gates of a place they knew to be a place of comfort, hope and peace.  But, order and calm was most important for the sake of the injured.

We saw God’s blessings in so many little things that night.  Two massive, battery powered, florescent lights appeared out of nowhere and gave the medical team the light they needed. I am not really sure how many injured people were treated during those next 24 hours, but my guess is 250.  All those patients were seen, stitched, bandaged, or splinted by 1 Physician, 1 Physician’s Assistant, 1 Optometrist, 2 Nurses, 1 Dental Assistant, 2 Pre-Med Students, A Mechanic, A Carpenter and a few other non-medical personnel. WOW!

I could tell you so many small stories of gritty hope, grisly death, exuberant relief from those next 24 hours. I will share just a few:

Beni is the normal gate guard at Christianville.  He is a fun guy, who I have spent some time talking/connecting with.  Tuesday, at lunchtime, I took him a meal, and visit with him and his daughter.  We got a good laugh because his daughter’s name is a combination of our names: Beni-Billy.  Beni told me he was going to visit some family that afternoon, I think in Carrefour, and I didn’t think much of it.  At the time of the earthquake he was there, and separated from his family.  I will never forget his voice yelling “Madam Beni, Madam Beni” as he entered the gate. Madam Beni, and Beni-billy were waiting for him. It only took one word from her mouth to drive Beni to his knees, arms stretched to Heaven, weeping and praising.  “Madam Beni” turned to “Mesi Jezi!” I wish all the experiences I lived through had great endings.

When a father brought his infant daughter to the gate, the end of that story was already determined.  The Haitian’s word for a sick person is “Malad”, and he came saying that and holding his child up to us. There were three of us as the gate then: myself, Bill Hauser, a preacher from Iowa, and Nanee, the local medical clinic administrator.  Nanee took one look at the baby and yelled, “Oh my God, I think this baby is dead.” We rushed the tiny, crushed girl to Dr. Jim, but it was too late.  I will never forget her precious face, or her father’s moans as he was told the news.  But even in the midst of death, we saw life.

The earthquake sent some pregnant women into labor, three of whom had their babies the next morning.  But one lady was in a bigger hurry than that.  She came to the gate with her husband yelling, “I’m pregnant!” in Creole. She could have been a little more clear by telling us “I’m in active labor, pushing and about to have a baby RIGHT THIS MINUTE.”  Which she promptly did, one step inside the gate. She literally stepped inside, squatted and the baby’s head came out.  Doug was there with two gloves on, and caught the baby.  Mom and baby did just fine.  It was a remarkable reminder of new life in the midst of such massive amounts of death and destruction.

We made it to morning.  There was pain felt, death seen, blood spilled, life given and hope only glimpsed through the night, but we made it to morning. That dawn is forever imprinted on my mind as a great paradox.  As light broke we could see the remnants of the night’s chaos; bloody rags, trash, and sheets littered the area that was still full of people suffering in agony.  But dawn also brought a time of praise and worship that I not so much participated in, but really was blown over by.  In their darkest hour of despair, fear and uncertainty, the Haitian followers of Christ greeted the morning light with a time of earnest prayer and heartfelt praise.  In many times of corporate worship I have seen beauty and excellence, but at that moment, I saw power and confidence.  And that is what they had through their “fwa en Jezi”, their faith in Jesus.

The doctors got a touch of rest, and we decided to moved the emergency clinic up the road to the church building, which was damaged, but standing.  People who had laid awake all night with their injured relatives were growing impatient and couldn’t understand why their family members weren’t considered more urgent.  We needed a place where we could close the doors and the medical team could focus on one patient at a time.  I carried children with broken bones and lacerations down the road.  I helped load adults onto the back of trucks that were helping to transport.  I reassured parents that the church building was safe, while being nervous about it myself.  We saw patients till dark, and slept. Outside. There were still tremors.

With most of the urgent medical needs met, the 26 Americans met Thursday morning to set priorities and assign tasks. Our priorities included fixing the big generator so that we had a more stable power source for the remaining building, and to power the water pump.  We were concerned about water.  Our supply was limited without the well, and we were concerned about whether or not the well had been damaged in the quake.  We also needed to get into some of the half-crumbled buildings for supplies, food, keys to other buildings and personal effects of the full-timers.  We also had to buy gasoline and diesel for the vehicles and generators, as well as food for ourselves.  We went our separate ways and got to work.  I helped with unloading apartments, and whatever else they needed me for.

The next few days fog together in my mind.  I just remember always being busy, and always having something to do. Whether it was bagging food, going to market, or helping organize the pharmacy, I remember working to leave Christianville better than when we left it. I remember laughing alongside new friends as we worked hard to help those in great need.  I remember weeping with those who told stories of great loss.  I remember exuberant joy as we met people we had yet to receive contact from. I remember learning and relearning things in ways I never though I would.

I learned that when Jesus calls you to love Him and His mission/call on your life more than yourself or your family, He means it.  My family was struggling. They worked every avenue they could to find a way home for me.  The information changed moment  by moment it seemed.  We would hear that the road to Port au Prince were safe, and then that there was massive roadblocks and rioting.  We heard that the airport was open and there were flights out, and then that the airport was closed and damaged.  We heard that the US Embassy wanted all Americans wishing to leave to stay put, and then they wanted us to get to the airport.  But my goal was not to get home, or even to stay.  My goal was to be who or what Jesus needed me to be right where I was.  And I would keep at it in Haiti until the leaders at Christianville said it was time to go. And I will be that here now that I am back.

I learned that worship and spirituality is in everything we do. Tuesday night, the most spiritual thing we could do was be the hands and feet of Jesus by stitching wounds, and caring for the urgent medical needs that presented themselves.  One of the greatest acts of worship and service wasn’t a sermon or a song, but a mechanic fixing a generator to provide power and water. Everything is spiritual.  Everything is an act of worship.

I learned the power of prayer in real and dramatic ways. The generator was fixed. The water was clean. The food was found. The roads were clear when we finally went. A rich Nascar dude donated the use of his plane to get us out. We had a phone that worked. We had no causalities among our team. We were praying.  You were praying. God was stitching together a magnificent tapestry of grace and power.

I learned that the kingdom of God is unshakable.  In the midst of this great terror and disaster, we saw the Church showing God’s love and grace in amazing ways.  We began to see the church outside of Haiti flood Haiti we support and aid. In fact, we managed to rally aid for Christianville specifically right after I returned.  The whole time we were in Haiti, we saw no foreign aid. But we did receive an unexpected blessing. As we were drifting to sleep one night, Thursday I think, we heard loud honking at the gate.  It turns out that another mission further down the coast, which was less affected by the earthquake, loaded up a truck full of clean water, bulk food, sheets and a few medical supplies to help us out at Christianville.  We distributed food through the local churches with great joy the next day. We saw one of our team come to Christ, as well as at least 12 Haitians. The kingdom of God cannot be stopped!

So, what’s next?  As with any story of brokenness and death, the next chapter is reconstruction and resurrection.  In the midst of their most dreadful hour, there is great hope for Haiti, through the power and work of Jesus and His Church.  Perhaps He has appointed you for such a time as this.

One response to “In the Haiti Earthquake

  1. WOW Billy! Thank you so much for writing your thoughts of your experiences down, pen to paper. I have yet to do that but I will. I have been speaking about our experiences & have found that to be healing for me. I hope & pray that together, we will be in Haiti again someday. You’re right – the reconstruction & resurrection has begun – how exciting!
    I love you Little Brother!
    For such a time as this, we were blessed to meet!

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