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.
[The end.] [Or maybe just a beginning.] [Pics/Video soon.]