Messages From Haiti

By   •   January 15, 2010

BGEA Internet writer Jeremy Hunt responded with Rapid Response Team chaplains and Samaritan’s Purse personnel responding to the tragedy in Haiti.

Monday, January 25, 2010 – 11:49am
I’ve now been back in the U.S. for a little less than a week and everything that I saw and did while in Haiti continues to haunt me. In a strange way, I think that’s for the best. While I’ve broken down a few times in tears, weeping for the pain and suffering of the Haitian people, it scares me to think that I might get desensitized to their plight at some point.

Our lives here in America are so comfortable in comparison. Generally speaking, we have everything we need (and so much more) at our fingertips. Stepping off that plane back from Haiti and walking around the West Palm Beach airport felt like I had landed on another planet. From rubble and trash everywhere, to safe structures and clean common areas. From a scarcity of clean water and food, to water fountains and fast food stands every few feet. Even coming home felt a little strange: our modest home and possessions are an embarrassment of riches in light of what I’ve just seen.

What it all boils down to is this: we are called to mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice (Romans 12:15). Furthermore, we are to “live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position (Rom. 12:16).” This is our call as brothers and sisters in Christ. At this point, Haitians are the lowest of the low. Our responsibility to care for them is clear.

No one knows what the future holds for Haiti. I have no idea how long the international community will be pouring aid into the country. Aside from the possibility of increased tourism, I’m not sure that Haiti has much to “offer” the rest of the Western world. But we operate by a different economy from Wall Street’s. It’s not about what we can get, but what we are called to give, however big or little. Ultimately, the Church’s collective, long-term response to Haiti will be a crucial gauge for measuring how close our hearts are to that of Jesus.

Meanwhile, BGEA Rapid Response Team chaplains continue their work at the Baptist Mission Hospital. Additional chaplains are scheduled to join them sometime late this week. A much larger chaplain contingent is being prepared for a longer-term deployment to Haiti soon. We will provide on-scene updates during this deployment. Please continue to pray for this important work – and for the urgent relief work being done by Samaritan’s Purse.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010 – 6:57am
I’m posting my final blog from Haiti early today, as my travel plans are in flux and thus so is my internet connection, (or lack thereof as the case may be).

I doubt that I’ll fully process what I’ve seen here for a while. The sheer need of this country is overwhelming. It wasn’t a great place on a good day. As the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti already needed all the help it could get. The poor living conditions overall were already tragic before this earthquake hit. Now you’ve got people scared to live in their own homes (if their homes are still standing). Just this morning, we had another hit that registered 6.0 on the Richter scale. Families are mourning the loss of children, parents…the list goes on and on.

And as I took all of this in, these people with their various levels of needs, my mind drifted to the a couple of sections from Jesus’ most well known sermon series:

Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 5:1-10

Now far wiser men and women than I have unpacked and interpreted these verses in powerful and diverse ways. So I won’t even attempt to think that my thoughts on this passage are anywhere approaching unique, profound or provocative.

That said, I can’t help but think that the people of Haiti are a big part of this rich group called the Blessed. Granted, Jesus is speaking of spiritual qualities here: spirit, kingdom of heaven, righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, etc. But He uses very physical terminology for the conveying of those characteristics: poor, hunger, thirst, be filled, see God, called sons of God. Jesus Himself was/is the collision of spirit and flesh. So the convergence of these qualities is no accident.

And so for the Haitians, I have to believe and trust that there is hope and healing, both now and in eternity. The good news of Jesus is the breaking in of the kingdom of heaven, now and in eternity. The good news of Jesus is there for all to partake and experience, if only each will take hold of it and follow Him.

And the other portion of this sermon that came to mind?

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.” – Matthew 5:13

It’s “easy” to jump on a crisis such as this when it’s front and center of our eyeballs. But you know our ADD culture as well as I do. Some celebrity scandal will soon distract us. Our own economic “struggles” (so petty in comparison) will overtake our brains. We’ll move on.

But let it not be so in Haiti. Let us not lose our saltiness here. We have to join Jesus in His work here…not just in bringing people to His feet, but also in lifting them up to walk and run with Him on their own.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010 – 8:36pm
Man, what a way to spend my last full day in Haiti.

I found out the other night that I’ll be flying home tomorrow, a realization that is just now hitting me. It’s been a week since the earthquake and one day short of a week since I left Charlotte to come down here. It feels like I’ve had about half a years-worth of living crammed into five days.

But back to today. Knowing that it was my last day here, I wanted to be sure to see as much as I possibly could. And I got my wish. I joined up with the water systems team from Samaritan’s Purse, riding in the back of their pickup truck. It’s become my favored mode of transportation here. We first stopped by the airport where supply planes from SP have been making regular drops on the airfield. We picked up a water filtration system to be installed in Carrefour at a Seventh Day Adventist University. This location is home to a huge tent city and a good water supply. Carrefour is also a place that’s been heavily hit by the quake and thus greatly in need.

While we were there, kids and adults alike gathered round and wanted to chat, smile and see what was happening. I was impressed yet again today at the strength of character of the general Haitian on the street. I keep hearing reports of looting, increased tension, and violence…yet I haven’t seen any signs of it. That’s not to say it’s not happening. It very well may be. But everyone who I’ve come into contact with has been incredibly personable. Again, all of this would be refreshing in the most normal of circumstances. It’s astonishing in the face of utter devastation that many areas of this nation are up against.

Speaking of devastation, we visited some of the hardest hit cities this afternoon. After we dropped off a team to set up the water filter in Carrefour, we headed out to make location assessments in Léogâne and Grand and Petit Goâve. We were basically trying to figure out if it would be possible to set up future areas for distributions and getting aid into the hands of those who need it most.

I had heard that Léogâne was wiped out and also not receiving much aid, due to its non-central/non-Port-au-Prince location. And after seeing it today, I believe it. Whereas certain areas of Haiti show intermittent damage (a few buildings down, a few standing, a few more down, etc.), Léogâne looks like it’s been flattened for miles. Like the entire city was leveled in one fell swoop. I’ve heard that it was at or near the epicenter. It shows.

Miraculously, we ended up meeting an American missionary there who knows a local pastor with connections to approximately 30 churches in the area. It was definitely God’s hand directing us to this group, as we had already driven past the Christian college where they were located once or twice. We stopped and talked to them, making plans to start immediate relief supply runs within the next day or so. Thank God for His faithfulness in that situation today.

Tomorrow I leave. Seems so weird and welcome to go home. The work here is just beginning and I feel like I’m going to miss out on what comes next. But I’m excited about being able to share in person what I’ve seen here. I miss my wife and daughter, yet I have a new appreciation for actually having family to miss. So many here won’t ever see their family again.

Haiti isn’t a sprint brothers and sisters. It’s a marathon. If any real transformation is going to come to this beautiful country, it’s going to be through faithfulness, hard work and tons of prayer. But more on that tomorrow…

Monday, January 18, 2010 – 6:49pm
Today has been a decidedly quieter day, at least for me and for the portion of the Samaritan’s Purse crew that I tagged along with down to our new compound. Yep, that’s right. We moved from the Baptist Haiti Mission Hospital down to a new location closer to the coast and closer to the airport. Our team needed a more permanent (and accessible) place from which to stage distributions. Additionally, a new team of doctors is coming to the hospital and we needed to clear out to make room for their accommodations.

Even though I was only there for a few days, I already miss that mountain ministry and the incredible people who God has placed there. They possess a sweet spirit of love and peace that resides even in the midst of chaos and destruction. In many ways, they are an oasis (physical and spiritual) for the town of Fermathe. The Spirit of God truly dwells in their hearts. I will miss them.

Our new HQ is run by Global Outreach and our new hosts have received us with open arms. It’s my understanding that this will be the main SP operating base for relief efforts moving forward. Obviously, things being what they are here in Haiti, that could change at any time.

It’s a decidedly different locale, a stark change from our home of the past few days. Rather than being in a lush forest environment, we’re close to the foothills of another set of mountains. But these are mostly barren, leading down to the plains on which the missionary community is set. The wild thing about this terrain is that it leads straight down to the ocean…to a bay with water that is a brilliant blue-green. Haiti continues to astonish me with its array of contrasts.

Before we actually got to the compound, we had to drive through parts of Port-au-Prince again. This was the first time I’ve seen the city in the daylight since we got here. What an assault on the heart and the senses. Everywhere you look, people in need. Tent cities, flattened buildings, packed vehicles, stray dogs…we passed the US Embassy and saw a line of people at least two blocks long. I assume most of them are trying to get out of the country.

As I rode in the back of the pickup truck (to guard our gear and luggage), smells welcomed themselves to my nostrils, with no regard for whether or not I wanted them there in the first place. Rotten food, refuse, human waste, dead and decaying flesh. Fresh food, sweat, dust, gas fumes. All of it mixed together in some sort of crazy nasal concoction. As a lone white guy (though more and more sunburned/tan by the day) in a sea of black and brown, I definitely got a lot of stares. And in some areas where we passed, I wondered if we would get jumped or a mad dash made for our supplies.

But no such thing happened. There were a couple of tense moments…and they passed without incident.

And that was the day. A day of transitions. Here we are at our new “home,” at least for the time being. The sun has set and we’re engulfed in the black of night. Time for rest. Tomorrow will be a busy day.

Sunday, January 17, 2010 – 9:37pm
Thank God for some light in the darkness. Today was intense on many levels. As I shared earlier this morning (actually a little over 12 hours ago), we started out the day facing some critical issues: low levels of water and fuel. I am thrilled to report that God met those needs head-on throughout the day.

First up, the fuel. Some members of our team were able to track down a truck with some diesel and brought hundreds of gallons back. It’ll be enough to help run vehicles and generators here for about another week, so that’s a huge praise.

As for the water, the filtration system is in place and functioning well. It took a while to hook everything and then test it to make sure that it’s filtering properly. There’s a long hose running from a pond up about the equivalent of two stories to the filtering system. A pump pulls the water up and then runs it through the filters. At this point, it’s not clean enough (without chlorine tablets) to drink, but it is usable for washing, toilets, and showers. They will be implementing the tablets tomorrow.

Then once the filter system set-up was done, we also had to figure out a way to get the pumped water into one of the main cisterns here in the compound. At first it looked like hauling buckets would be the only option. But after rechecking the SP storehouse here at the compound, we found another roll of hose that just reached from the filters to the cistern open. It was the perfect length to run water straight through without the extra labor. What an answer to prayer!

It was also a day of contrasts as I witnessed elements of death and life first hand. Because it’s Sunday, most of the workers in the compound were gone. But as some of the bodies of those who’ve died are going unclaimed, the staff has to resort to burying them. Well they needed help today with that responsibility given the lack of workers. So I volunteered along with the RRT Chaplains and Ryan, the cameraman from Samaritan’s Purse.

We were taken to a small mass grave out in the woods of the compound and waited for a couple of hospital workers to bring out the bodies: a man, a women and a young boy. We prayed over the grave and the people dropped in and then covered them with a layer of rocks and dirt. Three more bodies will be put in the grave tomorrow…and after that? Who knows?

In stark relief to that situation, we had the joy of seeing the new source of water being pumped in the cistern. With that cleaned water came the knowledge that this would provide the doctors with the water needed to help continue ministering to the living within the hospital. It was a beautiful thing, seeing clear water coming out of a pond turned green with algae and debris.

And so the work here in Haiti continued for another day. It was a good day. God be with us again tomorrow.

Sunday, January 17, 2010 – 7:44am
Just a quick update this morning: please pray for everyone here at the Baptist Haiti Mission Hospital. We’ve reached a critical state of need in the areas of fuel and water. The water at the mission is filtered through a cistern system and it’s the dry season here. With the influx of injured patients, the doctors to take care of those patients, and the various support staff/Samaritan’s Purse crew (not to mention the missionary families that already live here), the water is nearly gone.

The team is working on hooking up a water filtration system to a large pond here in the mission, but we’ll also need fuel to run the pumps that power that system. Beyond that, fuel is absolutely essential to being able to move supplies and begin distributions throughout the area. It’s also crucial to simply running the generators that power this compound. Without power, the doctors won’t be able to continue to operate and work on their patients.

It’s a tough situation on all fronts and we desperately need your prayers for wisdom and good coordination as we try to tackle these interlinked issues simultaneously. Many thanks!

Saturday, January 16, 2010 – 8:10pm
Back with a few more stories before the evening takes the day. This has been one that I won’t soon forget.

As I continued to shadow the Dowlings and their counseling work, we came across more survivors. We met Lovely, a 10-year-old girl, whose leg was broken in the quake. She was saved at an early age in her church. Jack and the translator prayed over her, both for her own healing and that of her mother, who is also in the hospital.

Becca met with a young man named Watson. He had just gotten home from school, stepped into his house and as the earthquake hit, a portion of the structure fell on his leg and crushed it. He was lying on a palette, waiting to be seen by the doctors. His parents had brought him and tried to build some sort of a splint or makeshift cast out of cardboard and tape. Becca told me that, while Watson was very well versed in Scripture, he had never made a choice about believing in Jesus. She prayed with him and he committed his life to following Him.

The final family I saw today was the toughest situation I’ve encountered since we arrived. The chaplains found a mother and father who had just lost their 11-year-old daughter. They were dressing her body and preparing it for burial as Jack and Becca started talking and praying for them. As the conversation started opening up, they found out that these parents had lost six children in the earthquake, including this girl who had just died. Three children were lost in the rubble of their home and presumed dead, while two others were dragged out and dead on the scene.

They still have two older children who are still alive. But I can’t even begin to fathom the depths of their sorrow and grief. It almost sounds too clichéd to utter out loud, but I can only hope and trust that God’s peace which transcends all human comprehension will envelope them during this time.

Tomorrow we’ll be on the move again, venturing into the city and distributing more supplies. Until then…

Saturday, January 16, 2010 – 11:52am
It’s a new morning and a new day here in Haiti. The view out from our mountain dwelling in the Mission compound is deceptively beautiful. The neighboring mountainsides are dotted with housing and sparse trees, but the sunlight and picturesque vantage point mask the suffering that’s still taking place below.

One of the Haitians who helped us load the supplies for the drive up last night lives nearby. We spoke outside the house where our team slept and he told me that he had various members of his extended family staying with him. His house was safe, but some of his cousins’ houses had cracked in the quake.

I think one of the most striking things about this experience so far is the quiet resilience and strength of the Haitians who I’ve encountered. Many have lost everything (possessions, family, home) and yet continue to soldier on, working together to pick up the pieces.

We also got an early morning update from the doctors. They saw two patients last night that had been pulled from the rubble. Beyond that, there are about 60 patients waiting for surgery in the hospital. The team from Samaritan’s Purse is dividing responsibilities today, coordinating multiple teams to receive new supplies. Thankfully, even more doctors are coming in next week.

After our group gathering, I split off to join RRT Chaplains Jack and Becca Dowling as they started their rounds through the hospital. The picture that’s forming of the complementary efforts of the BGEA and Samaritan’s Purse working together is really quite powerful. The two combined contribute different aspects of the calling of Jesus to minister to the widowed and the orphaned in their distress. While SP efforts focus on meeting the physical needs, the RRT chaplains counsel survivors and victims on the spiritual side of things. Obviously the two areas overlap and thus, that’s probably a bit of an oversimplification, but that’s the general way that this particular outworking of the body of Christ operates.

So as we began to enter the hospital, Jack prayed over our group (Becca, their two translators Daniel and Elismond and myself) and for the people we were about to encounter.

As we walked into the hospital, I was amazed by the sheer number of people crammed into the halls, rooms, floors…simply put: wherever there was room, there were people. Not only the injured, but families as well, there to attend to their loved ones. In the first room, we meet a whole family (father, mother, daughter) who had started following Jesus just a day before. The father was in obvious pain and Jack prayed for healing and a supernatural touch from the Lord.

Jack also shared that they saw a couple of people yesterday who have yellow fever…and I saw people throughout the hospital with broken limbs, severe bruises, cuts and lacerations, and various forms of head trauma. We spoke with Anna, a woman who was inside a house when the earthquake hit. A portion of the structure fell and broke her leg. Jack shared some encouragement from Scripture with her and then we moved on.

We ran into a group of nurses who they had prayed with yesterday, specifically asking God to send more medical help. The team of doctors who arrived on our flight was a very specific answer to that prayer. Jack reflected on the joy of answered prayer and then “lifted up our sisters in Christ.”

The incredible thing about these women is that, not only are they attending to all sorts of medical needs in this time of crisis, but they’re doing so in the midst of uncertainty about the well being of their own families. When asked by Jack about their loved ones, most said that they don’t know if their families are alive or dead.

From there, we met a young man named Fresnel, with a similar story as Anna’s. He was in school at the time of the earthquake and his left arm was broken. Jack also prayed over him, both for his injuries and to lead him to the Lord. Fresnel wanted to make a change in his life and Jack shared with him how important it was to spend time in prayer and the Word everyday, and also to find a solid church family. Jack gave him a new Bible with his new birthday (1/16/10) written in the front.

What you might not be getting from these stories is the sheer amount of time that the chaplains spend with each victim. It’s definitely a case of quality over quantity, often spending over 30 minutes with each one. They’re pouring out their lives and hearts, taking time to listen and pray for the spiritual and physical needs of the patients they encounter.

I’ll have more later, but I’ll close by simply asking again for continued prayers. Relief aid and supplies are slowly coming in and it is all desperately needed. Thank you so much for all that you’ve already done and all that you continue to do.

Friday, January 15, 2010 – 9:19pm
We finally arrived at the Baptist Haiti Mission Hospital this evening, well after the sun had set. It’s been a long day, but the team of doctors and relief workers were simply happy to finally be in country after about 48 hours of traveling. When we arrived at the airport, we commandeered a large pallet for our supplies and started hauling it towards the MAF hangar. Once there, the doctors assembled their gear and were directly taken up to the hospital. Their help was desperately needed as the hospital was (and is) filled past capacity. Many wounded have been waiting for treatment, so getting the physicians up the mountain was mission critical.

Once they left, the DC-6 aircraft from Samaritan’s Purse arrived, containing water filtration systems, blankets, tarps and other vital relief supplies. The rest of the day was spent unloading the plane, a slow process given the lack of a forklift or heavy machinery of any sort. As the supplies were offloaded, they were transferred to various vehicles and transported up the mountain. Finally, once the plane was empty, it refueled and took off, leaving us to load the convoy one last time. The rest of the SP crew crammed into the remaining space, with a few of us riding on top of supplies in a pickup truck.

As we left the airport and drove through the Port au Prince, I was struck by the sheer number of people walking or simply hanging out outside. As you might expect, going back indoors is a risky proposition at this point. Many of the buildings that aren’t already a pile of rubble have massive cracks running across the walls, while some upper stories are teetering precariously over the edge. Additionally, the sun set quickly around 6pm and from then on out, most of the city was bathed in darkness. There were fires and random pockets of fluorescent light, but generally speaking, the only consistent light came from vehicles in the street.

We passed several outdoor parks that have been turned into tent cities, as well as a cemetery where the graves had been reopened due to the earthquake. There is so much to be done here. So much help that is needed. This is going to be a long deployment, but hope is already starting to make itself known. Along with the physical restoration offered by the doctors, three Rapid Response Team chaplains (Keith Stiles and Jack and Becca Dowling) are here at the hospital, ministering to spiritual and emotional needs. I’ll be talking more to the Dowlings tomorrow, but Jack shared that nine patients have already gotten saved in the midst of all this chaos.

Please continue to pray for the patients here, as well as the rest of the Haitians throughout the country. They desperately need our help. Thank you for all your support. I’ll be back tomorrow with more updates and stories from the relief efforts.

Friday, January 15, 2010 – 1:15pm
“The doctors [who flew in with us] are on their way up to the Baptist Mission Hospital where we’re going to be based. I’m sending this from a small Mission Aviation Fellowship office. Pray for everyone here. The relief process is slow and the hospital is starting to run low on water, food, and medicine.”

Keith Stiles at the airport in Haiti
Samaritan’s Purse plans to deliver truckloads of plastic to help construct temporary shelters, blankets and water filtration units. Next steps are to set up portable medical facilities that can service as many as 10,000 patients over the next several months.