On July 24 I boarded a plane bound for Port Au Prince, Haiti with seven other people from my church: Erin: a 26 year old woman whose life is devoted in service to the Lord and who needs to get a record deal; Josh:31, a goofy Chris Farley type who loves God and a good laugh; Julian: a twenty year old Malaysian kid who takes both his walk with the Lord and the English language literally; Luke: Eighteen and bright, but got lost in the airport within the first 20 minutes; Karen: a forty-eight year old mother of two girls, one of whom is expecting her first child.This is Karen's first mission trip, also; Mike and Amanda: a married couple in their mid-twenties. Mike is an elder at our church and loves baseball and playing the drums. Amanda is sweet and pretty, and teaches physical education at a private school. She will also kick your butt on the volleyball court any day. Then there's me: 30, still working in a restaurant and finally going for a degree in Christian counseling starting this semester. Hilarity and tears were sure to ensue.
On January 12, 2010 a devastating earthquake hit the already impoverished nation of Haiti, which is the western third of the island called Hispaniola in the West Indies. Haiti has an interesting and violent past: they are the only nation besides the US to gain independence from outside rule and they also dedicated their country to Satan two hundred and six years ago. They are the poorest nation in the western hemisphere, and this beautiful island is now broken even worse than it was before and seems literally to be God-forsaken.
Some of Haiti's history as taken from:
1492 - Christopher Columbus lands and names the island Hispaniola, or Little Spain.
1496 - Spanish establish first European settlement in western hemisphere at Santo Domingo, now capital of Dominican Republic.
1697 - Spain cedes western part of Hispaniola to France, and this becomes Haiti, or Land of Mountains.
1801 - A former black slave who became a guerrilla leader, Toussaint Louverture, conquers Haiti, abolishing slavery and proclaiming himself governor-general of an autonomous government over all Hispaniola.
1802 - French force led by Napoleon's brother-in-law, Charles Leclerc, fails to conquer Haitian interior.
1804 - Haiti becomes independent; former slave Jean-Jacques Dessalines declares himself emperor.
The next two hundred years of rule are very tumultuos: leaders are deposed or killed, new dictators rise up or the people elect leaders..but it doesn't seem that they stay in power very long.
2010 January - Up to 300,000 people are killed when a magnitude 7.0 earthquake hits the capital Port-au-Prince and its wider region - the worst in Haiti in 200 years.
US takes control of the main airport to ensure orderly arrival of aid flights.
2010 March - International donors pledge $5.3 billion for post-quake reconstruction at a donor conference at UN headquarters.
2010 July - Popular anger grows over slow pace of reconstruction six months after quake, aid workers report.
The website I referenced above also claims that approximately 90% of Haitians practice voodoo. Every single president in Haiti has practiced voodoo. The spiritual darkness is very in-your-face and overwhelming. People worship evil. It is a scary place.
The first thing I noticed as we were flying over the Dominican Republic after our layover in San Juan, PR was the tiny rash bumps coming out on my right arm. I hadn't even set foot on Haitian soil yet and I had somehow caught an infectious disease already. I also took in the deep green of the DR, and then the barrenness of Haiti as we flew over parts that had been deforested.
Normally, when I've flown in the past, I love to take in all the buildings and beauty of the place I am descending into. Not so this time. There were no skyscrapers, no city waiting for us. We got closer to the ground and saw tiny lean to houses and desolate farm land."What have we gotten ourselves into" was the question at the front of my mind, but I was here for two weeks, like it or not. I hoped I'd like it.
The departures "warehouse" is the only way I can describe the place where we went through customs and picked up our bags. One huge room with people swarming all around. It was an airplane hangar, now that I think of it. A huge, undecorated airplane hangar. We left out of a huge garage door and ten men tried to pry our suitcases out of our hands saying "Let me help you". They practically wrench your bags away from you and then demand to be tipped for their "service". Luckily, we had been warned about this and answered "No, mesi" a hundred times. Only Erin's bag was won into the hands of the "skycap" and he got a couple dollars.
We were met by three missionaries who had come in Baptist Land Rovers to pick us up. One of the missionaries, Kim, was my roommate for four months in Richmond and helped set up all the details of our trip. We threw our bags on top of one of the vehicles and waited as the two missionary men, Parker and David, went to fetch the other team they were picking up; a medical team from Illinois.We waited with Kim, catching up on her first three weeks in Haiti, and saying "no" to people begging through the fence around the airport parking lot. About forty minutes later, the medical team, minus one bag of equipment, was loaded in the other Land Rover and we set off for the main compound in Port-Au-Prince. This is where we would spend our first night.
The compound was a large gated piece of land down a side street in the city. There is a small house with an office, kitchen, and two bathrooms, and tents dotting the property, which is where the teams that come in to serve short term stay. We set up our cots and sat awhile, then ate a delicious dinner of rice and beef, mangoes, bananas, and a delectable soda the likes of which i have never had called "Fruit Champagne". It is orange in color and fruity and vanilla-y in taste. Loved it. After dinner we reapplied our various forms of bug repellent (I used Deet 45), we gathered around the picnic table and sang worship songs. It gets dark very early in Haiti (around 6 or 6:30) and the sun rises at about 5:30 am, so we used flashlights to see our song books and Josh played his guitar. A young guy by the name of Justin who was with the medical team joined us. His team was comprised of his Dad, who is a dentist, and other people all over the age of 40. He is 19, which is way closer to our team's demographic than his.
We were all beat from long night and day of travel, so we willingly went to bed early that night ( I'm guessing around nine). I settled into a tent with Erin, Kim, and another missionary named Abby. I could not find my earplugs anywhere, which slightly concerned me, but I figured I was so wiped out that I could probably sleep through anything. This turned out to be an incorrect hypothesis.
That first night I was awakened by the sound of voodoo drums. It was dark, and all that was between me and the great outdoors was the thin tent fabric. I knew the voodoo people weren't in the compound, but I have no idea how close they were. It was a chilling sound. My heart began to beat very loudly and I knew I needed to just pray and pray and pray.
God brought Psalm 23 to mind. The psalm about God protecting His sheep even through the "Valley of the Shadow of Death", and that we are to "fear no evil". As I prayed, God comforted me with the fact that although I was in a place where there was some decidedly scary and evil things taking place, I was safe in His care. He protects those He loves. I was able to fall back asleep, and slept peacefully through the night.
More to follow..