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FIRST PERSON: Moments of hope in Haiti

EDITOR’S NOTE: View a video with reflections from Alan James and the photographer and videographer who went with him to Haiti at http://www.commissionstories.com/haitihope.

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–I didn’t want to go. The trip seemed too rushed, too difficult to plan and, honestly, too dangerous.

The 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti Jan.12, and the next day the International Mission Board’s media department decided to send a team to report on the devastation and relief efforts. We wanted churches to know as soon as possible how they could respond.

But there seemed to be too many unanswered questions.

How would we get into the country? What would we do for transportation? Where would we stay when we got there? What about food and water?

According to news reports, the capital city, Port-au-Prince, and surrounding areas were pretty much shut down. We were hearing reports of desperate Haitians looting and threatening to riot.

It didn’t help that some of my friends who had traveled to Haiti were saying, “Haiti is scary on a good day.” OK, then what is it like on a bad day?

We needed a good plan, but we didn’t know how many logistical details we would have to nail down after we got there.

Mark Rutledge, an IMB missionary with 26 years of experience in Haiti, agreed to translate for our team. Still, I was concerned about navigating a disaster of this proportion. Getting down there within a week of the disaster didn’t seem realistic.

I prayed, “Lord, if You want us down there so soon, then You’re going to have to make this happen.”

The next day we got a tip about Tim Dortch, the bi-vocational pastor of Good Hope Baptist Church in Camden, Miss. Dortch has more than 15 years of volunteer missions experience in Haiti and owns a compound in the Dominican Republic just east of the Haiti border. His compound had electricity, running water, food, supplies, Internet access and trucks to take us into Haiti.

Dortch offered to let the team use his compound. He planned to accompany us to Haiti so he could take supplies — fuel, water and food — to an orphanage on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. He had heard about needs at the orphanage on the news.

Suddenly everything had fallen into place. A peace came over me. I couldn’t wait to get to Haiti!

When we arrived in Port-au-Prince, we were assaulted by a variety of smells — dust, urine, food and death. The sight of thousands and thousands of people living in makeshift camps scattered around the city was overwhelming. People were sleeping, bathing, going to the bathroom right out in the open. Cell phones were getting recharged out of the back of a van. A group of men in one of the camps casually chatted around a closed coffin.

Our team encountered a woman rolling around in the street, screaming, “I can’t take life in the street anymore.” Though Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, most of the people there had homes before the earthquake. They had jobs and access to water and food.

Life as they knew it is now gone.


Still, there were moments that confirmed to me God was there.

A pregnant young woman sat quietly against a monument in one of the camps. A Bible rested in her right hand. As she read, she raised her left hand toward the sky.

It was a quiet moment in the middle of chaos.

So many Haitians had lost everything. But when they borrowed something as insignificant as a pen, they were mindful to return it to its owner. Rutledge delivered their contact information to a Southern Baptist disaster relief assessment team, which is sending four medical teams to Haiti during the next week.

Then there were the children. Many of them were quick with a smile when they saw cameras and outsiders entering their world. Some played soccer. A couple of boys playfully chased each other through the crowd. Others flew homemade kites made out of plastic plates.

Many of the young ones seemed oblivious to the devastation around them.

The toughest part was seeing collapsed buildings, especially schools, where we knew bodies of children remained beneath the rubble. More bodies — ones no one had claimed — were in the street. The smell of death was strong in many areas of the city.

On the final night of our trip, our team visited a clinic just beyond the Haiti border in Jimani, Dominican Republic.

The clinic looked more like a war zone.

Wounded Haitians lay all over the facility. Some were resting on mattresses on the clinic floor or in the grass outside because that was the only space left. Some had limbs amputated. Many others had bandages on their heads or pins in their broken legs or arms. Volunteer doctors and IMB missionaries serving as interpreters were bleary-eyed and exhausted from days with little sleep. They walked among the injured, providing whatever medical help and comfort they could.

Again, we found a moment of peace and hope amid the chaos.

An elderly woman was resting on a bed in the lobby. Claire’s hip was broken and she was waiting for surgery. Looters had stolen everything from her abandoned home. And some of her family had died in the earthquake.

Despite all of this, Claire couldn’t stop smiling.

“I have hope in God,” she said in Creole through an interpreter. “God will get me through this.”

People like that give me hope for Haiti.

I left Haiti with a feeling that good things were on the horizon for the country. Not bad for someone who initially didn’t want to go there.
Alan James is a writer for the International Mission Board.

Southern Baptists can contribute to “Haiti Earthquake Disaster Relief” through their local church or directly to their state convention, the North American Mission Board (www.namb.net) or the International Mission Board (www.imb.org):

— The North American Mission Board has set up a Haiti disaster relief fund that will direct money to state conventions and other Southern Baptists who are doing relief work in Haiti. Donations may be made online, www.NAMB.net, by phone, 1-866-407-6262, or by mail, North American Mission Board, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Make checks payable to “Haiti Disaster Relief Fund/NAMB.”

— Initial funding for the relief effort will come from the International Mission Board’s disaster relief fund. Contributions can be made online, www.imb.org, or by mail, International Mission Board, P.O. Box 6767, Richmond, VA 23230.

Regardless of the SBC channel, all funds received for this purpose will go to relief efforts; none will be used for administrative costs.

Baptist Global Response is located on the Internet at www.gobgr.org.

    About the Author

  • Alan James