LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (BP)–Devastation and despair — that’s what an Arkansas Baptist medical team encountered when they touched down in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jan. 18, just seven days after a 7.0 earthquake ravaged the struggling nation.
The 11-member team spent Jan. 18-22 in Haiti on a mission of healing and hope.
Port-au-Prince was “a city in shambles, with buildings down, people displaced, lots of injured people,” said Tamra Gore, who serves as a chaplain for the Benton, Ark., police department. “There were lots of people just living in fear, depressed, hungry, thirsty – not knowing what to do.”
“Haiti was at its best a poor nation. Now, hope has been ripped from the people,” said team member Carl Garvin, pastor of Lakeland Church of Omaha, Ark., and a former Southern Baptist missionary in Africa.
“It was almost like once they recover from one disaster there is another disaster. There is just a lack of hope.”
However, people are beginning to go about their normal lives, though still living with the terrible aftermath of the Jan. 12 quake, Garvin said.
“I noticed people walking by collapsed buildings where there was a smell of dead bodies,” he said. “But they seemed to shut it out of their minds like it did not exist. It was like if it was out of sight, it was out of mind. There was just a lot of mass confusion.”
The Arkansas Baptist team stayed at an orphanage just a few miles outside of Port-au-Prince. They went prepared to purify water and eat only the MREs (meals ready to eat) they took with them. But instead, orphanage workers prepared daily meals for the group. They found another “surprise,” a diesel generator that provided electricity at least part of every day.
The team, which included two medical doctors, four nurses, an emergency medical technician, a physical therapist, a crisis counselor and a nurse practitioner, treated a range of injuries, including a woman with a protruding bone from her chin.
“We also saw much fear,” Garvin said. “There were headaches, nausea and other forms of stomach distress. These are the physical signs and symptoms following great stress.”
Amid the pain and despair, the team also witnessed glimmers of hope.
Gore said team members prayed with each person who came to the clinic. Four patients made professions of faith in Christ. Through an interpreter, Gore’s husband Larry, a physical therapist, shared his faith with a woman who prayed to receive Christ as her Savior and Lord. Because local Haitian pastors were on hand serving as translators and security in the clinic, they were able to begin follow-up with the new believers.
“There is a hunger for spiritual things,” Garvin said, “but there’s a need for follow-up with new believers. Because of their religion, they tend to just add Jesus to whatever else they believe. Haitian pastors will be there to disciple those who accept Christ.”
Team members also spent part of one day helping distribute rice at the orphanage.
Gore related instances of God’s “miraculous” provision involving, for example, two large bags they took to Haiti filled with food for children who visited the clinic. As those sacks emptied, Gore noticed a third bag of food. “We didn’t have three bags,” she insisted.
Team members even had opportunities to minister at the airport while they waited several hours for their return flight to the U.S. Gore said the airport was full of search and rescue teams from all over the world who spoke English or had translators. “They all needed to share their pictures and have someone hear their stories,” she said. “One man told me, ‘You are the first person to let me cry.'”
Garvin called the situation in Haiti a logistical nightmare. Supplies are pouring in with no structure to distribute them.
He suggested future teams bound for Haiti spend time together getting to know one another and praying together to develop “spiritual cohesiveness” as they prepare to go.
Gore agreed. “They need to be in prayer about what they will face and what they will do,” she said. “They must be spiritually prepared. They need to realize they are not going in as heroes, but to help people and love the Haitian people.”
Teams also need to be prepared to deal with the lack of security, to be in good health and have all the necessary shots for traveling to Haiti, Gore said.
“It also would help if someone in each group had knowledge of Haitian culture and history,” Garvin said. “There are dos and don’ts in each culture.”
Team members were aware of the risks involved in their trip, said Robby Tingle, missions ministries team leader for the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.
As the team prepared to depart for Haiti, Tingle told them, “I can’t guarantee you will get there. I can’t guarantee where you will be once you get there. I can’t guarantee what you are going to eat outside of what you are taking with you. Nor can I guarantee that I can get you back home.”
Tingle and two others, an advance logistics team for the state convention, have since traveled to Haiti to work toward ways of minimizing such risks for future teams.
Gore asked for prayer for Haitians to find peace. “They need to feel some peace…. They need to feel God is with them and that they can call out to Him in their time of need.”
Garvin said there isn’t a quick fix to the problems in Haiti. He said Baptist volunteers must be there for the long haul.
“After the crisis disappears from the news, we need to be aware that Haiti is still there and much needs to be done in the months and years ahead,” Garvin said. “This is an open door to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Let’s don’t forget about the Haitians.”
Lisa Watson is associate editor of the Arkansas Baptist News (www.arkansasbaptist.org), newsjournal of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.