Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The last few days in Hispaniola

I realize I've delegated blogging to Johnny...I guess I can wrap up our adventure tonight :)

What a week. Yesterday was pretty eventful because one of the Haitian staff at the school fell while hopping out of a pick up truck and broke his wrist. The staff member, "Boss" Solon, was unloading fuel and then slipped while getting down. Everyone at the school is tired, and on top of that, he lost his son in the earthquake. He hasn't slept well since. Luckily there are 150 doctors staying on the school's campus. Of that 150, there were a few German orthopedic doctors that wrapped his wrist immediately and connected us with their team at one of the local hospitals that is still functioning. We got him there and into the xray room within 20 minutes of arriving. I guess that means 1 of 2 things...1 we were hooked up pretty good by the Germans, and/or 2, the initial emergency is taken care of so hospitals aren't as crowded. After some turf issues between the American and German ortho surgeons on site, Boss Solon was given local anasthesia as they set his broken wrist. We re-xrayed and everything looked great. Mission accomplished.

When we got back to the school, I did some data entry and talked with students during their breaks. I was able to see a few new faces around campus--more students seem to be coming back to Haiti. Unfortunately many are also leaving, so it is a constant cycle of kids in the school. Meanwhile, Johnny helped carry cokes to the Army guys stationed on campus. He was happy to report that he carried the cases all the way from the trucks to the Army tents, while the army guys had to take a break. Haha.

Oh, I've also been dealing with a cold that has definitely been a distraction. Yesterday, I had to blow my nose every five minutes or so then rub a little hand sanny in to protect everyone else :) I'm slowly coming over it now, but it's still driving me crazy.

This morning we decided to catch a ride back into Jacmel to hopefully meet up with our pilot. When we arrived, we found out our pilot changed his plans. That meant we needed to get on whatever flight we could out of Jacmel or stay there over night. We found a great pilot that took us into Santiago. You meet a lot of interesting people involved with disaster relief. We rode into the Domincan Republic with an ER doctor that has been all over the world. Very neat guy. Then we found out that a hotel near the airport has reduced rates for relief workers. What a relief :) We met more interesting people here that have been bringing supplies into Haiti since the first 30 hours after the quake. Amazing.

Our plan is to get up early and head back to the airport tomorrow. We should be on the first flight to the US and on our way back to Dallas by the afternoon. I am sad to leave Haiti behind (again), but excited about the prospects of raising support and awareness of the continuing needs there. No doubt CNN and Fox News will drop news coverage of the situation (if they haven't already), but we need people to continue to pray for and support Haiti. The worst may or may not be over....we are now in what we call "secondary infection" stage. Not to mention there will be needs that will emerge as time goes on. Please don't let your interest in Haiti wane with the news coverage!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Day 6 in Haiti

Today I got to speak in the school's chapel... What a great thing. I can tell that I will be in ministry because when I go a while without preaching I get an itch. After I spoke in chapel we got to spend time with the kids again...more came to school that day. Then I went down to the military side of the campus and worked on organizing all the school books that were moved to downstairs rooms. Kim was helping in the medical tent counting pills and putting them in bags. I did that for awhile and then Kim and I went to the market. After we got some supplies from there we went back to Quisqueya and dropped off the supplies. We bought some treats and 'wish list' items for the teachers and staff here on campus who have been going non-stop since the earthquake.
Later we visited Ceable, a good friend of Kim's who was the guard at her old apartment. His family lost there house in the earthquake, so now they are staying in a concrete storage shed. It is about 12 feet by 8 feet. I will try to get pictures to show you. The best part is that after we were done visiting with him he prayed for us. It was a good prayer--the best I have had in a long time. He started the prayer off by singing a song to God. He was singing his heart out to the one he loved most. After the song he started praying and while he was praying it reminded me of when I was in Nicaragua. When we were about to leave Nicaragua, the community we were helping pulled all of us Americans in one of their houses. They had scrounged around and put a very small meal together for us to eat. By American standards it would have fed only 3 people but it was all they had and they offered it to us. On top of that they made us sit down and they went around and prayed for us individually. How humbling to have someone who has nothing thank Americans who seem to have so much and offer us a meal. I was broken that day. The memories of that moment in Nicaragua once again flooded my mind when Ceable, who lost his home in the quake, was blessing me more than I have ever been by anyone else. I kept thinking of how God uses the humble and the foolish to confound this world and how inverse the laws of the kingdom of God are compared to this world. I was once again brought to tears as Ceable prayed for Kim and me.

Lord help me to stay broken, you never use those who are not!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Day 5

This morning, we woke up and had breakfast, tore down our little "camp," and left for church. Watching the rubble does not fail to shock you as you drive through the streets. We sang some songs and listened to Andy Stanley. What was really cool was I was thinking about Romans 8 and Andy Stanley talked about it also, about how nature groans and is subjected to futility in hope. One day we will no longer have to worry about earthquakes. At the end of the chapter the writer of Romans asks.."What then shall separate us from the love of Christ?" The cool thing is the first thing listed is death. Isn't it awesome that death is not a problem for Christians? C.S. Lewis said that when we get to heaven it will be so glorious that when we look back on our life, we won't see that heaven has supplied a solution to death and pain and tragedy but we will look back and see that there was no problem at all. How awesome that when we get to heaven EVERYTHING will be made right. The thirst we all have will finally be quenched, the itch will finally be scratched, the injustice will finally be made right and life will be lived as it should. I was brought to tears this morning reading that chapter. The amazing thing was after the message we heard this morning, one of the young guys on a visiting construction team here said, "I have never been a religious man, but right now I feel the closest I have ever been to God.." Even people in our team are having their perceptions of God radically impacted and they are seeing God like never before.

After the service we went on the top of the house so we could get reception for the satellite phone. Kim's church set up a live transmission for her to talk to the congregation. While we were up there we got to see the houses in the ravine behind the missionary's house. Before the earthquake, there were an estimated 75,000 people living in that ravine. Now it looks like at least half of those homes are destroyed and the badly damaged ones are still falling. The eerie thing is that there used to be so much noise in that ravine. Now, it is mostly silent. Many of the survivors moved to this side of the ravine and have set up tent cities all around teh missionary's home.

This evening, Kim was updating the blog and I was chatting with the missionaries about their salvation stories. And just 15 minutes ago a man came to the front gate with a broken arm that needed help. Kim helped translate to find out that he needs surgery on the arm but is afraid that the doctor will amputate. We had to explain why there were so many amputations the first week and why this doctor will be able to fix his arm. We were able to help and direct an appointment for him with an orthopedic surgeon tomorrow morning. We prayed with him before he left and were excited to find out that he is a believer.

There is so much going on it is hard to even write it all and in a way I almost feel like I am cheapening the experience and not doing it justice. But I am reminded of one thing: that Jesus knows all these people personally, and knows each one of their stories even better than I do. I'm so thankful that our God is not an unsympathetic high priest.

Also, please be praying for me as I will be preaching tomorrow in the chapel service to all the students and staff at Quisqueya. They have all had a crazy two weeks so far!


Day 4 (and 5) in Haiti

Saturday we took a tap tap to the school at 6am. Our goal was to help the crisis relief staff by documenting every person living on the campus at the time. Our task was cut short when we had to walk someone to a nearby house. The teams started leaving, further delaying our job. We then took a tap tap to the CSI guest house (which is also heavily damaged). We met with Greg Benson and his wife Kathy to catch a ride to Croix des Bouquets, where their clinic and orphanage buildings are. The orphanage is heavily damaged, so Tim and Toby (the directors) and all 20 girls are living in two small rooms by the clinic (which was not damaged). There is a work team in Haiti helping to pour new support columns and replace walls at the orphanage, hoping to save it. Johnny and I helped the orphanage directors by cleaning and packing things to move into the new orphanage building that will be built in the next few months. We also learned different theories of why some buildings collapsed and others didn't. Of course there are many factors, one being the way the houses were built. I'm not just talking about the reinforced concrete, quality of construction, etc. Obviously that is a huge factor, but another interesting aspect of the earthquake is that houses that were longer east and west (long sides facing north/south) were typically damaged the worst, while homes that were longer north to south (long sides facing east/west) were spared. The best analogy that was used to explain this is that in an earthquake, the tremors move like waves. Now picture a boat on the ocean; if it is facing a wave it can go right through it, but if a big wave hits its side it will capsize. The same is true with some of the buildings here.

Towards the end of the day we got to play with the girls. I (johnny) got to run around and chase them and have them chase me and Kim got in on the fun also. We taught them some games and played them for awhile before dinner. We ate and then after some great conversation with Toby we went outside set up our tents and spent the night under the stars.

Day 3 (and 4) in Haiti

We have had random opportunities to use the internet...but we were too busy yesterday to get on and update the blog. I think we last updated through Friday AM. Here is a recap of Friday afternoon:

We spent time with the students again, listening to their stories and offering words of encouragement where we could. One young Haitian girl was at the school visiting, hoping to talk with a counselor. She was happy to talk to me instead since she knew me before I left Haiti. She told me her amazing story...I'll try to remember all of the details:

Erta (the young woman) is 21 years old. She was taking afternoon college classes the day of the earthquake. Her younger brother was in school during the day and had asked to stay after to work on homework. He was working in a classroom when the teacher said he had to leave the room. He went on the balcony to finish his homework instead. Meanwhile, Erta was in class when the building started shaking. The roof collapsed on her when she tried to get out of the room. She was flat on her stomach trying to crawl out of her destroyed classroom. She said there was so much dust--yellow dust--and she couldn't see. Finally she saw a chair that had miraculously held up part of the roof. She pulled herself under the chair and through the opening to escape the building. After a few minutes of searching for her brother, she found him alive but injured. The two of them walked away from the collapsed school where many others were killed. They spent the night in a nearby park, unable to reach their parents. They later found out that everyone assumed they were dead after hearing that their school collapsed. The next day they tried calling their parents again, but were unable to hear anything. THey decided to tell their parents, "we are alive in Champs Mars, if you can hear us, hang up the phone." They heard the click, and a few hours later they were reunited with their parents!

Erta's story is just one of many that show God's hands at work in the midst of the tragedy. The Haitian staff at the school are all accounted for, but some have lost close family members. I was particularly worried about two families at the school, however I have been reunited with them in the last couple of days. Both families lost homes, but not close family members. Their stories are pretty amazing too. I am learning that for every story of tragedy, I hear 4 or 5 more stories of miracles. Every staff person at our school is alive, and all but 1 student survived the earthquake. That Tuesday morning, I remember waking up and praying for the kids and staff at QCS. I didn't know why they were on my heart that morning until I heard the news that there was an earthquake that afternoon. I am amazed at how God works things out. It's easy to look at a situation like this and assume he is distant, but the longer I'm here and the more stories I hear, the more I realize that He works mightily in the most difficult times.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Day 2 (and 3) in Haiti

Johnny typed yesterday's post, but I have a little to add :) As of 3 days ago, the director of the school decided to begin classes for the few students still in-country. A handful of teachers are here teaching 65 students from Pre-K to 12th grade. School is the best way for them to begin getting back into a normal routine (even though school is very very laid back). I have been able to sit and talk with them--to hear their stories and to encourage them as they deal with the emotional aftermath of the earthquake. While I will never be able to completely understand what they went through that day and what they have dealt with since then, I do understand them as a friend who experienced Haiti BE (before earthquake). It has been a privilege to serve them in this way, and Johnny and I are working on ways to help relieve them so they can get some rest. Johnny is pretty good at comic relief and the school has asked him to do a chapel service on Monday (the kids always asked me when he would come back to do another chapel!).

When I am not at the school helping with random errands, counseling, or stress relief, I am translating as needed. Last night I rode up with a team of Dominican doctors and a few American nurses to guide them to where they'll be staying. The driver spoke Spanish but he did have a Haitian translator with him who spoke Creole and Spanish. I spoke to him in Creole and he relayed the directions in Spanish. It was quite an experience! We got to the house (my friends Tim and Paola's house) after dark and I helped them unload their supplies. It was hard being back in Tim and Paola's home knowing they had to leave soon after the earthquake (Paola is 7 months pregnant!). I slept at their house the first night after Katie died, so there were a lot of memories there.

I realize that living in Haiti I have experienced a lot of tragedy. I know that this is a hard place, but at the same time I can really see the Lord moving here. Haiti is a very spiritual place indeed, but not a completely lost one. There are forces of darkness because of the voodoo, etc, but we know that Jesus has power over all of it! The believers here know it too, and they know who to thank for their blessings. I've been told that the night after the earthquake that you could hear Haitians singing and crying out to God. The director of the school told me that the people in the ravine near his home were singing "Count Your Blessings." What an amazing example of faith in the face of terrible tragedy.

Please keep praying...that is the number one need in Haiti right now!


PS--I will get pictures up asap. We borrowed a computer the first night in Jacmel and this morning I thought I loaded pictures on a jump drive so I could leave my laptop at the missionary's home we are staying at. Apparently I didn't...I'll get them posted soon!

Day 2 in Haiti

We woke up this morning to a great sunrise. We were in Jacmel waiting for our ride to Port-au-Prince. He showed up at 7 o’clock, just in time to grab a little breakfast before we were off. I forget our drivers name (he didn’t talk much at all) but our co-driver was a guy by the name of Junior (all I could think of in my mind was cool runnings). He was awesome and almost talked to us the whole ride in. Kim would ask Junior about certain places she remembers from living hear before. His answers were usually either “It’s flat” or “it is there but it is very badly damaged.” We talked about the future of Haiti and what his story was and we even talked about why the Canadians were so mad (we don’t know if they this is true but he said that the Americans kicked out the French and the Canadians and took over the Port-au-Prince airport and that’s why our Canadian neighbors didn’t give us a ride…there is no way we can confirm this but it made a lot of great jokes as the day went on). Junior lived in New York City during 9/11 and lived in Haiti during the Baby Doc’s departure, all the riots and coup d’etats, the school collapse, the bad hurricane season, and now the earthquake. Needless to say he had several amazing stories.

The ride over was …. I don’t know if you can put it into words. To me its like explaining to someone the Grand Canyon--how big and massive it is—but you are only able to show them a picture of it. They walk away thinking they know but you can only feel the “realness” of it when you are there in person. I had heard reports and seen pictures and video on TV but when it is something you hear and smell and breathe and it encompasses you it takes on a whole new form.

It is only maybe 25-35 miles (as the crow flies) to Port-au-Prince, but crows can fly over mountain ranges. We had to drive through one, which made the ride three hours long. The road was damaged the whole way, but as we got closer to PAP it worsened. In some parts there were hummer-sized boulders that had broken off the mountain and rolled down to block the road. In other parts there were mountain slides and some areas where the road had cracked and dropped up to 2 feet. Junior tells us that everyone knows this road will someday break off and slide down the mountain. It is the only (passable) road between Jacmel and PAP.

As we moved through the mountain you could see some houses reduced to rubble and some that were heavily damaged but miraculously still standing. Once we started to hit heavily populated places it was unbelievable. It was the Grand Canyon affect on me. About 60% of the houses were completely destroyed. Another 20-30% were damaged but still standing. We drove through Leogane, perhaps one of the hardest hit areas. It is just a few miles from Carrefour, the epicenter of the quake.

In my minds eye when I think of a building collapsing I think of bits or pieces falling or maybe half of it but that was not the case here (only a very small percent had minimal damage). The most common way I saw how building were crushed was this. Picture the ground and foundation then about 1 foot of rubble then the concrete roof on top of that. It seemed that the walls just disappeared and roofs where staying intact but had compressed everything below to the floor. You would see a 2-story building that was once 15-20 feet high; the roof would be intact only 3 feet high. The roofs are also not like ours. They are made of heavy concrete—perfect for hurricanes but deadly in an earthquake. Those that survived the collapse of their homes are now making tent communities. Anywhere there was a park, there is now a tent city. The Prime Minister’s home in Bourdon, the large parks in downtown, and the Petionville golf course now serve as refugee camps for the displaced.

I could go on a lot about all the disaster but we need to move on to the school. We arrived at the school and there we finished the day doing a several random errands for the staff. The first task that was given to me was to find a box of underwear….still haven’t found it. The army is also using half of the compound as a base so it looks very impressive. I believe there are over 250 medical personnel working out of the school. So much to say but we will cut it short there and say that even though it has been crazy it has also caused me to question God. Which is good. On the way down here I read A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis. In it he talks about our faith in God and how real it is to us. He likens it to rope--he says if someone asks you if you believe rope can tie a box shut, of course you would have faith in that rope. He goes on to say but suppose someone asks you to hang over a precipice? Would you have that same faith in that rope? I really believe as Christians we need to ask ourselves questions about our faith and what do we do with suffering when we are confronted with it. I don’t believe there is a set answer to this but I do believe I can point you in the right direction, and that direction is Jesus. I can never relate to these people and what they lived through. Right now as I speak I am in a house and the Haitians we are with won’t sleep in it even though there is room. They are sleeping outside for fear of another earthquake. The bible does say though that we do not have an unsympathetic high priest. Who better knew pain than Jesus? In the garden we see agony. On the cross we see questioning but through it all he didn’t sin and he ended victorious. That’s the key: he ended victorious (and it so happened that he got victory after death, is the same for some of us also? I believe so) Let us not forget we were promised hard times.

Let me leave on one more thought. I think back to my very good friend who said this in his testimony once. I find it comforting to me and a good reminder to keep things in perspective. He said, “God calls all of us to be a Bull that is ready; whether it is for the altar (laying our lives down) or the plow (a life long journey of ministry) is up to Him. So let me ask you, are you ready for either?