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Upon Returning From Haiti

I left Haiti 72 hours ago.  It seems at once both a moment and a lifetime ago.  I am conflicted with recent memories of the poorest of the poor and the present reality that in a coffee shop near my home, a latte can run upwards of $4.  On our laundry room floor rests a pair of Doc Martins covered in the concrete dust of Port au Prince.  If I wanted to, I could afford to throw them away…and yet I can’t afford to throw them away because I can’t afford to forget what I saw or felt.

We spent long hours driving from one side of the city to the other and back.  There were six people to fit in the four door pickup truck we had.  I quickly volunteered to ride in the back with Sean Malone of Crisis Response International.  I didn’t want to see Haiti from behind glass.  I wanted it to smack me in the face.

We drove up and down hills, through crowded side streets and crowded main thoroughfares.  We saw no areas untouched.  The damage is worse in some places than others, of course, but just when you think you’re out of it, you find a wall down or a roof caved in.   In one area, the street-side wall of a two story building had simply fallen off.  You could peer into the building like some full scale doll house.

The people of Haiti are remarkably resilient.  As much as possible, they are trying to go on with life.  On the sidewalk in places, you can buy vegetables, a bottle of coke, or a cell phone charger.  The irony is that unless you have a generator, that cell phone isn’t going to charge.  I saw one gas station open – the rest were shut down or, in one case, converted to a firewood stand.  It reminded me of a post-apocalyptic movie scene.

Five story buildings stand as eight foot tall piles of rubble.   The damage seems so random – three buildings destroyed, one standing untouched. It gives new meaning to the idea that it rains on the just and the unjust.

Speaking of rain, the very thought of it is horrifying.  One night, I sat in a meeting of 25 doctors and the Haitian Minister of Health who said that when the rainy season starts – probably in February – the water running through that rubble and over the corpses entombed within, will spill out into the streets and run towards the sea.  There is no drainage system.  All of Port au Prince will become a Petri dish of disease.    In his words, “We will see many more die of disease than of the earthquake itself.

I lost track of the number of tent cities.  Some of them hold hundreds, most hold thousands.  They spring up everywhere that the rubble is not piled and there’s room to hang three corners of a bed sheet.  Children wander – some lost, some orphaned, some simply out of sight of the extended family – and it’s hard to tell who is who.

The term ‘orphan’ is a relative term in Haiti – no pun intended.  There is a culture of passing children from family member to family member, often losing track of them or hiring them out as domestic workers and not going back to get them.  Many children – even in orphanages – have parents out there somewhere, although they have not truly parented the child.  Now UNICEF hopes to reunite these families like some Caribbean version of The Waltons, as if all it takes to reunite families is a good earthquake.

There are two moments that are indelibly burned in my mind.  The first was hearing the story of a father who had come to one of the medical teams.  His midsection was horribly infected.  For three days he returned, unwilling to talk about how he found himself to be in this state. Finally, slowly, he began to tell the story.  A few words into it, his wife walked away, unable to bear hearing it again.

When the quake struck, he was in a building with his two small children.  Instinctively, he covered them from the falling debris.  When the building itself fell, he was on top of his kids.  He prayed with them and comforted them – until the building shifted again and pressed his body down hard on them and they died.  For three days, he lay there on the cadavers of his children.  Through tears, he explained that prolonged contact with the dead flesh had put him in this state.     A member of the medical team cried along with him, saying “God knows what it’s like to see His Son crushed…”.

The second moment was more than a story – it was an experience.  We pulled into the compound of a rural mission to find 40 to 50 children – many of them orphans – gathered under a canopy tent, singing and praying.  These children are beautiful beyond imagination.  They are regal, full of dignity and poised for greatness.  Their poverty is a momentary, light affliction, because these children have a destiny.  The mission director reminded us that 49% of Haiti is 14 years old or younger – and that any sort of prayer movement in Haiti would by design be populated by children like these.   I saw the future of Haiti in those kids and for the first time, saw hope.

What’s next?  I’m not sure.  Haiti is complex.  Getting children out of Haiti right now is essentially impossible – even families nearing completion of the adoption process are finding themselves stuck at the embassy.   Our best chance to reach the orphans of Haiti will be to do so within the confines of Haiti…and that is what we intend to do.  There are 200+ registered orphanages in the capital city alone and tons of food and supplies pouring in to the city.  We hope to serve as a connecting point for those two things, as from what I saw on the ground, inter-Haitian agency communication is much poorer than outbound and inbound communication.  As crazy as it seems, connecting the goods with the children might be easier to do from thousands of miles away.

My trip was short by design.  I had no delusions of grandeur leading me to believe I could fix Haiti in 3 days.  I wanted to see it all with my own eyes so that if I grew tired in the battle to help Haiti, I’d have my own conscience to wrestle with.  Now you have my conscience to wrestle with too.


10 Responses

  1. i dont even know what to say as I read these words. Horrific, Intense, Heart Breaking, Sickening and confusion are the words passing through my brain right now. I do not understand but I can pray. At this point I think that is the best thing we can do.

  2. Thank you Randy. Praying for you and your family and will continue to do so. Praying for protection, health and wisdom for your own family and big, creative, God ideas for your work with Haiti and the orphans. Thankful that you have the mind of Christ. He has given you all things for life and godliness. Keep running the race. Running with you in prayer.
    Blessing, Rest and Peace to you and your family.


  3. The story of that man and his children is a horrifying story. I do not even have a grid for something like that happening.

    Great post by the way. The future of the nation of Haiti lies in the hands of these children. Ill be praying for those kids and the work you will do with them. If there is anything I can do to help besides prayer let me know.


  4. praying for those in Haiti, praying for the children. Thank you for going down there. To be able to see first hand, then tell so many.
    It is hard to believe. Makes me cry.

  5. I don’t fully understand the implications but I’ll throw it out there….Should we pray for God to hold back the rain?

  6. Hi Randy,

    I have a question. Would it be better to donate money to CRI or take the next training and try to go with a team?


  7. thank you for not forgetting these children…

  8. Thank you for writing this. The story of the man and his children paints a picture of the pain that many are experiencing in that nation. My heart weeps when we forget these ones. Lord, don’t let us forget.


  9. Thanks Randy. Please keep the issues before us so we don’t neglect it in prayer.

  10. Wow…words fail me. What an entry. How sad for the man and his children. Does “sharing in Christ’s suffering have anything to do with this kind?” perhaps…there are not solid answers other than we know HE is the solid rock we stand on! Crying out for MERCY seems to be the only thing that comforts.

    Jesus wept…


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