Heart for Haiti Remains in Haiti
Samaritan's Purse Bolivia Director Shares an Account on the Efforts in Haiti.
- Daniel Zeidan // February 21, 2010
I’m back from the destruction and chaos that is Haiti. For the first couple of days I was relieved to be out of the stress, the long days and short nights, the images, the heat, the mosquitoes, the exhaustion. Normalcy and her sister, routine, are great antidotes for a man who has just returned from a physical and emotional context of total disorder.
For some strange reason, however, I feel drawn back again and again to the streets of Port-au-Prince. I’m physically home, but my mind has never left the rubble of Haiti. How does one go about the mundane tasks of the day when one knows something so monumental is happening on an island not-so-far away?
I see myself walking the narrow paths of tent camps in Leogane, wandering the dark and empty square of what was once the colonial gem of Petit Goave, now turned into rubble. Children dark as coal call after me “blanc, blanc” (white man, white man). In my dreams I’m organizing distributions, talking to camp leaders, digging pit latrines. I’ve never left the rubble and ashes of Haiti.
I’m still there, roaming the cracked roads between Leogane and Petit Goave. Using the cover of night to conduct drive-by distributions of tarps in IDP camps for fear our truck would be mobbed by the masses. Wandering the dusty debris of an orphanage that has completely been destroyed, not a soul in sight.
I was active for the whole time in Haiti. I felt like I was cruising on a wave of adrenalin mixed with caffeine and the diesel fumes from our Nissan Navara pick-up.
Our expeditionary team was sent from Port-au-Prince to set up camp in the Leogane/ Grand Goave area on the west coast, a place that had been the epicenter of the quake and that saw 90 percent of its structures damaged or flattened. We set up a sub-base, focusing on safe water provision, sanitation, and distribution of non-food item (NFIs) in displaced persons camps.
We also initiated a rubble removal program in the ruins of the cities using heavy machinery and local labor.
We all worked long and hard hours: 6 a.m. wake-up, on the road by 7, work ‘til 5 p.m. without any lunch, return to camp at 6 p.m.—sometimes later. Dinner served at 6:30 p.m. by the local cook, followed by a short devotional and a meeting to plan tomorrow’s activities, and then up to midnight or later on the computer most days. Once or twice I was too tired to feel the tremors and aftershocks and run out of the room.
But despite the seemingly unceasing activity, God provided supernatural strength and I was surprised that my body did not give in to the lack of sleep and the scarcity of food.
Regardless of the action and movement, my feelings and emotions were frozen for most of the time I spent on this half-island. The images, smells, and sounds were too monumental to take in and digest, the human suffering just too overwhelming to comprehend.
So one went about focusing on the activities of the day—planning and executing, delegating tasks, defining solutions.
The misery and hopelessness still seeped in sometimes, shaking our souls. Like the morning a motorcycle crashed into our pickup and rolled down the hill with its two riders. We thought we had killed them as they lay on the ground semi-conscious and bleeding. Just another day in Haiti; two more deaths added to the local suffering and pain.
We drove them to a nearby clinic and, miraculously, they walked home that day. I was reminded again and again that someone larger than us is in control. Our destinies are in His hands, whether we are Haitians or North Americans. Death is part of living, and no human has power over either.
The falling slabs of concrete did not distinguish between rich and poor, the weak and the powerful. No race or class was spared. Priests, beggars, businessmen, U.N. chiefs, street vendors, children, women, the elderly—death picked whomever it desired.
I have talked to local pastors and heard this notion often: the quake was God’s justice on Haiti for its iniquities. One pastor in Gressier was certain that the collapse of the presidential palace and governmental offices in Port-au-Prince were a sure sign of God’s wrath against the government and the years of corruption and abuse of power. The land is cursed, many say, because freed slaves made a pact with the devil in the founding of the Republic in 1804, dedicating their nation to the voodoo gods after winning the revolution.
Maybe. I’ve seen the voodoo temples myself (one was spared by the quake and stood intact at the center of Leogane), and heard their drumbeat rising at night as if from beyond the darkness.
But when faced with such a cataclysm, I like to crawl back to a passage in John 9, which tells the story of the healing of a beggar born blind. Rather than focus on whose fault it was that the man was blind and reduced to begging at the city’s gates, our Lord turns the question on its head declaring: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned … but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”
Clearly, sin has always been a painful part of the human condition and is always present where humans are active. But the lesson of the passage is this: do not focus on people’s sins, which always leads to judgment and to death, but rather focus on the opportunity to display the work of God in peoples’ lives, to manifest the power of the Spirit in the midst of suffering, even in this place of wrath and tears.
Thus in the darkest moments dwells the hope of light. The darker the night, the brighter the stars. The deeper the pain, the closer is God. It is no wonder then that thousands are now turning to Him in Haiti, turning to life, turning to the light of the world.
Two things struck me most in Haiti.
First, the resilience of the people. One needs to see it to believe it. How does a nation recover from such devastation? How does a mother face tomorrow when her home has been obliterated—with everything inside including appliances, toys, clothes, photo albums, and memories?
Her life’s savings have vanished in the rubble and dust that once were the city’s banks. Loved ones have faded into the eternal vault of death. How does one muster the strength to go on?
Another nation suffering such a calamity, with more than 200,000 dead and large segments of the populace displaced, might have sunk into collective anguish. I know I certainly would if I had seen my wife and sons expire under cement slabs and found myself on the streets, alone.
And yet the Haitian people are able to stand up, readjust to their new and entirely miserable conditions, and live. A week or so after the quake, markets re-opened and people tried to piece together what was left and adjust into some sort of normalcy.
It isn’t easy. Tent villages are built from twigs and old blankets and plastic. There is nowhere to go to relieve oneself. The next meal is uncertain.
Yet the relentless and extraordinary resolve of Haitians only grows. Nou pap lage—we won’t give up. Our heads are bloody, yet unbowed. We’ll fight everything you throw at us with the only thing we have left: our spirit and our will to stand firm.
Secondly, I was struck by the dedication and sacrifices of the group of men I worked with shoulder to shoulder, my colleagues, my brothers in arms.
These brothers were a collection of volunteers, engineers, soldiers, and aid workers who came to Haiti from different countries and walks of life. I suspect the camaraderie we developed held us physically and emotionally together, sustaining us from the strain and bewilderment of working in ground zero.
One of these men, an active lieutenant colonel in the Army, had just returned to the U.S. for home leave after six months of battling the Taliban in Afghanistan when the quake struck. With his wife’s encouragement, he decided to leave his family once again to help out in Haiti.
Another, a water engineer, worked without a break for three weeks, and was only relieved of his duties when a message came that his father had passed away back home.
I can still picture another colleague, a civil engineer, being lowered down a contaminated well on a rope to scrape human feces from the walls, so that people in the nearby camp would feel psychologically comfortable to drink the water that our chlorination plant would later filter.
Volunteer doctors serving with Samaritan’s Purse at a field hospital above Port-au-Prince donated their own blood while they took a respite from attending the injured.
Surgeons serving as nurses; lieutenant colonels serving as logisticians; security chiefs serving as pit diggers. What dedication. What love. In a world ever too absorbed by the material, the trivial, the superfluous, the superficial, every now and then people come together to forgo self and love their neighbor as themselves.
On this half-island, we all discovered the power of God displayed through us in simple acts of service drenched in sweat and blood. This disaster has brought the world together, reminding us of our common human frailty and our own mortality.
It also reminds us of the tremendous human capacity for action. Each has contributed according to his or her ability. Each went the extra mile to make a small dent in the sea of need and grief, to win a small battle in this place of wrath and tears.
Haiti has taught us that all God wants of His followers is to be obedient to His calling—and He shall do the rest.
And let it be on this half-isle, above the chocking dust, that tears have also bound His eyes, that on His heart we’re cast.