By David Carter, Chair of Lees-McRae College Board of Visitors
On January 29, a medical mission team of 14 people flew from Raleigh bound for Port-au-Prince, Haiti, including Nancy and Wally Fox, my wife, Melissa, and myself. We were answering a call from Family Health Ministries (FHM) after the devastating earthquake in Haiti on January 12. FHM had called me to ask if I could assemble a few people from our church to go help provide aid.
I did so willingly because I had been to Haiti for the first time just months before with the FHM mission team that traveled to the Caribbean nation in October. My experience there and Melissa’s as well had moved us deeply, and Haiti had our hearts. Nancy and Wally, who had been to Haiti in October 2008 and October 2009 with mission trips, were also most willing to be part of the earthquake relief team.
The airport in Port-au-Prince was still closed to commercial flights so we flew into Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. We left the city the next day for a car and van trip across the border and into Haiti that, thankfully, occurred without incident, but not without its impact on each of us: Destruction, devastation, and despair are not adequate words to describe Haiti today.
We arrived in the area of Port-au-Prince called Blanchard and set up for the clinic. Our intention was to see people from the Blanchard area, attending to many of the primary care issues we had seen in October. We were also prepared for trauma- and quake- related issues and injuries.
We attended church in Blanchard on Sunday. When the service ended about 9:30am, everyone on the team went to change into scrubs. We opened the clinic’s doors by about 10am. From that point on Sunday until about 5:30pm on Friday, our FHM medical team saw and treated 1,508 Haitian people – young, old, men, women, children, quake victims and more.
These 1,508 people endured 90-degree heat, humidity, backless concrete benches, little to no food, little to no water, pain and the relentless fear of another quake or aftershock. Still they came, everyday, waiting in line sometimes for hours.
So much of the earthquake’s effects and impact have been documented in the media. And from what we saw and experienced, much, if not all, of it is true. On the best of days, Haiti is difficult. Since January 12, it is very easy to make the case that Haiti is hopeless. Yet, what has not drawn equal billing, at least in my opinion, is the grace, dignity and endless courage that emanate from the Haitian people. At no time did I see tempers flare. I did not hear one voice raised in anger or frustration. I did not encounter a single episode of selfishness or “poor me” syndrome.
Our Haitian brothers and sisters actually told us how blessed and lucky they are and continue to be!
They shared with us how God is looking over them, blessing them, keeping them in his care. They said God is present and in their lives – after all, God worked to help send us there.
How can such a marginalized people possibly maintain such character, and such hope? I believe we were indeed privileged to see and be part of 1,508 God moments.
I will leave you with the following: Our clinic took place on the second floor of the building, so we had a view of several adjacent buildings. One was a home with a roof caved in by the quake.
On Monday morning a solitary figure appeared on that roof. Carefully picking his way across the debris, this young man eventually stopped. In his hand was a short-handled sledgehammer. He selected a spot on the roof and began to swing that sledgehammer. On and on he worked, chipping away at the collapsed roof. Monday became Tuesday, and Tuesday became Wednesday, and so on.
At some point, someone asked, “What is he doing? What can he possibly hope to do with that little hammer?”
One of our Haitian interpreters said, “He’s started to rebuild.”This is the enduring hope and character of Haiti and her people.