I’ve just returned from an exhausting trip to Haiti, via the Dominican Republic, which was the only way we (and multitudes of others) could gain access. HF staff member Jeff Trotter and I witnessed devastation in Port-au-Prince that I can only describe as apocalyptic. As we drove through Haiti’s capital, we were reminded of how fragile life is, and how near eternity can be. 200,000 Haitians rose from their beds on the morning of January 12 never imagining that they had less than twelve hours remaining on this earth.
The needs in Port-au-Prince are staggering. It will require years of effort by agencies and governments around the world to bring Port-au-Prince back up to the depressing place it was before the earthquake. I believe, however, that we have found our places of service. Let me briefly describe what we experienced.
The first stop on our long journey from Puerta Plata, Dominican Republic, to Port-au-Prince was a field hospital on the border, housed at the Good Samaritan Medical Mission compound. Heaven’s Family Latin America Director James Jones is responsible for that field hospital, assigned to his task by the Dominican Republic’s Health Department.
James, a former army medic, has coordinated the convergence of medical personnel and ministries who are treating the injured flown in each day by helicopter. We met many fine doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel who are volunteering their time and skills. Hundreds of injured people are being served. Along with many other fine organizations such as World Vision, Heaven’s Family is providing medical supplies, water filters, and tons of bottled water. Also with our help, three paramedics from Pittsburgh arrived Saturday who will be serving at that field hospital all this week.
After a taxing, bottle-necked border crossing into Haiti, we drove to the outskirts of Port-au-Prince to rendezvous with Pastor Preval Meritil, my Haitian friend of thirty years, who oversees hundreds of churches across Haiti. It was so good to see him alive and well.
Preval led us to some church property about an hour outside the city where he is resettling about 1,500 Port-au-Prince Christians who lost their homes. When we arrived, children were playing with one another, women were cooking rice and beans in large pots over wood fires, and men were constructing two simple sleeping shelters, one for the men, and the other for women. That camp will be their home into the indefinite future. Many more will likely be joining them.
I entrusted Preval with several thousand dollars I had brought with me to provide for their most immediate food needs. Food is available for those who can afford the increased prices. I was so glad we had made the effort to be there, and that we were able to do something for members of our spiritual family. We also gave them enough Sawyer water filters to purify water for everyone.
The Haitian government has announced that 400,000 Port-au-Prince survivors will need to be relocated to resettlement camps around the city. Providing basic services for those multitudes will be a massive and daunting task, and I’m afraid that for many, things will become worse before they get better.
Heaven’s Family will be focusing on caring for those 1,500 brothers and sisters whom we have just begun to help. They need foam mattresses, as they are currently sleeping on the cold, hard ground, as well as blankets, food, shelter, water, toilet facilities, and security from gangs who will be preying on those who have food. (4,000 Port-au-Prince prison inmates escaped after the earthquake.) The logistics to provide for all these needs are being worked out by James Jones and Preval Meritil—all made possible because of your compassion.
From the resettlement camp we journeyed to the other side of Port-au-Prince to visit our orphanage, passing the ruins of many homes, businesses and large government buildings along the way. The stench of decaying bodies still buried under rubble permeated the air. We witnessed a line of people that stretched for at least a mile that terminated at a large iron gate. There was obviously hope of food behind that gate, but it was closed as we passed.
The concrete house that is used to house the children of Mt. Zion Orphanage was undamaged, with the exception of a block wall that fell on the edge of their small piece of property. None of the children had been injured, but a number of them asked us, through our interpreter, if we would take them with us. They said they were afraid of another earthquake. (Everyone in Port-au-Prince is sleeping out in the open.) I did my best to reassure them that God would protect them.
The director, Pastor Widelson Marcellus, and his wife, are also caring for some neighbors. Along with the orphanage children, none had eaten since breakfast that morning, and they were out of money. We arrived late in the afternoon, so I was glad to be able to provide the food they lacked. We gave them a Sawyer water filter, and James treated a few injured people who were there. We will continue to be a lifeline for Mt. Zion orphanage through James and Preval in the months ahead. We are considering relocating all the children to our other orphanage that is five hours outside of Port-au-Prince in a more rural setting.
There is so much more that I want to tell you about our time in Haiti. Please look for an article about earthquake relief in our March magazine that will include a web link to a slideshow that will better tell our story.
Again, thank you to everyone who has helped and continues to help. The media frenzy will soon subside, but we are going to continue serving in Haiti for months and years ahead.