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Christian humanitarian medical ministry in Haiti repels armed attackers

LiveBeyond, a Christian humanitarian medical ministry planted in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, serves about 1,500 expectant mothers a week. Live Beyond photo

THOMAZEAU, Haiti (BP) — Nearly a dozen gunmen attacked the LiveBeyond ministry compound about 20 miles outside Port au Prince March 21, but ministry security repelled them, CEO and cofounder David Vanderpool told Baptist Press.

“Our security personnel repelled the attack, so nobody was injured. But it’s just constant gunfire, constant danger,” said Vanderpool, a physician who cofounded LiveBeyond in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. “It was just eight or 10 guys that came and started shooting at the gate, trying to get in, that we were able to repel them. So it didn’t become an issue.”

As they are able, children continue to attend classes at the LiveBeyond ministry base 20 miles from Port au Prince, Haiti’s capital city held hostage to gang violence. Live Beyond photo

Gunmen were likely looking for food and supplies to steal and sell, and people to kidnap for ransom, Vanderpool said.

Numerous gangs comprising tens of thousands have mobilized under the leadership of Jimmy ‘Barbeque’ Cherizier since the July 2021 assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse. Gangs have taken control of the city, it is widely reported.

Gang are heavily supplied with military style weapons and according to a February report from the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, are increasingly bureaucratic and self-funded, gaining perhaps $25 million a year in ransoms, forcing individual businesses to pay more than $20,000 a week to remain operational, and earning as much as $8,000 a day at checkpoints. There’s evidence that gangs are killing individuals to steal and traffic body organs, the report said, as corpses missing organs are left lying in the streets.

“It’s one of the most dangerous places in the world right now,” Vanderpool said. “It just really demands some kind of intervention. There has got to be some international intervention.”

The United Nations is best positioned to intervene, Vanderpool said, as it is within the group’s charter to provide security in unstable nations. The thousand police officers offered by Kenya would be woefully inadequate to fight the gang population of about 100,000, many of whom are former police officers themselves, Vanderpool said.

“People need to understand that Americans do not need to go to Haiti for any reason,” Vanderpool said, citing a U.S. State Department “do not travel” alert in place since 2018. “No American should be in Haiti. There’s nobody there that can help them if they get into trouble; they need to understand that.”

Many Americans, including several Haitian Southern Baptist pastors from Florida, were trapped in Haiti when the violence escalated Feb. 29. As recently as March 18, two U.S. staff members of the Louisiana Reach Haiti’s Children’s Village were trapped in Port au Prince, having traveled there to visit family members before the most recent escalation in violence.

David Vanderpool, a medical doctor and cofounder of LiveBeyond ministry in Haiti, baptizes a new believer at a church on the ministry site in Thomazeau in an undated photo. The ministry’s local staff of about 120 Haitians continue to operate the ministry as gangs control Port au Prince about 20 miles away. Live Beyond photo

Vanderpool’s LiveBeyond ministry is operated by a staff of 120 Haitian employees, he told Baptist Press. He was in Huntsville, Ala., on a fundraising tour when he spoke with Baptist Press March 21, but lived in Haiti 13 years after the ministry purchased a 63-acre plot of land there in 2011. LiveBeyond operates a hospital, school and church to serve Haiti’s poorest residents.

Vanderpool was last at the LiveBeyond compound eight months ago but communicates daily with the team there as the ministry’s CEO. Most recently, he had been in Israel establishing a LiveBeyond compound in an economically disadvantaged area there.

The “poorest of the poor” are left behind in Haiti, Vanderpool said, unable to leave. They are among the population LiveBeyond serves.

“They’re the ones that are suffering the most right now,” he said. “They’re getting out every way they can. The United States has opened up visa processes for Haitians, and so it’s easier for them to get to the United States, but many are boarding boats that are rickety and they capsize in the ocean and people are lost that way.

“It’s a very, very dire situation.”

Despite the violence, LiveBeyond’s entire ministry compound remains open, Vanderpool said, although some children who typically walk six miles to get to class aren’t able to attend every day. The hospital is busier than ever, he said, serving 20,000 patients a month at a facility designed to treat 6,000 monthly. At any given time, 1,500 pregnant women receive weekly prenatal care. Worship continues at the church on the base.

As he met with churches requesting financial support for LiveBeyond, many were skeptical of whether their financial resources should be allocated to the work, Vanderpool said.

“We make the case that it’s the poor and it’s the people whom we serve who are the most vulnerable,” Vanderpool said, “and they’re the ones that are suffering the most.”

Vanderpool encouraged Christians to pray for Haiti.

“We really are wanting people to pray, because the people of Haiti are under a tremendous amount of pressure,” he said. “A thousand civilians died in January.”