Thursday, June 3, 2010

Haiti Disaster Response Trip

Thank for your prayers and support of me through my recent trip to Haiti.  Our small, four-man team had a successful two weeks, and we were able to serve a large number of people and ministries by traveling all over the country.  All of our logistical concerns were taken care of as far as places to sleep and food to eat, which was a huge blessing.  I think before I had communicated to some of you that I really felt a strong desire to serve on another Haiti trip since the earthquake, and once I realized I was going on this one, I again really felt that I was going for a reason other than just to provide engineering help.  Well, I still don't know exactly what that reason is, and maybe I won't know, but if nothing else the trip challenged me to try to understand what serving really is and what it really means to love our neighbor.

To give a quick overview of our trip, we went to Haiti to assess the safety and damage of many of the buildings standing after the earthquake, and then design repairs to salvage the damaged buildings if possible.  So many people have requested help since the earthquake, and through other teams (many from EMI), most of them have been reached.  However, with each prior team focusing their efforts in a centralized area, many ministries and people living farther away were left unreached.  We went on our trip with the intention of traveling to as many of these unreached areas as possible.  Although that meant a lot of "work" to provide a little bit of help, it was a worthwhile trip.

A lot of what we saw was an absolute fear of being anywhere near a building.  We looked a several houses that survived the earthquake with almost no damage, yet the people would refuse to sleep under the roof.  It was nice to be able to tell these people that their home was completely safe, and they had no need to be sleeping in tents anymore.  In one extreme case, we went to a school where we were told that parents wouldn't let their kids attend school, out of the fear of the building.  We asked if there were any particular areas of concern in the building, and they said, "Oh no, no one's even been willing to go inside the building to look..."  It turned out that that building withstood the earthquake well, and was completely safe the way it was.  Of course not all the buildings we saw were that way, but I was surprised by how many of them were okay.

I think as I was preparing for this trip, I was pretty excited about all the help we were about to provide for these people that are suffering so much!  Now, as I reflect back on the trip, though, I'm somewhat frustrated by how much work there is still left to do for the Haitian people and how much help they still need.  I don't mean to say we didn't do our job, or we weren't able to accomplish what we set out to do, but being there I got an eye-opener for how much need there is beyond a group of engineers just doing their thing.  People we're of course very appreciative of the help we provided them, etc., but it often seemed like engineering help wasn't the biggest concern.

For example, in one of the orphanages we served, the kids seemed so starved for attention and love because they had very minimal adult presence.  So, it's important to fix their home and therefore our job was important to tell them how to do it, but I felt like the greater need was something else.  While we were there, we were able to love and give them some attention, but we only had limited time.  I guess I'm trying to say I have no regrets about what we were able to do, but it's hard leaving a place like that without doing more.

Another way I am challenged is to comprehend the idea of "loving your neighbor" and what extent we are willing to take that.  One of the missionaries we met that runs a children's home there really encouraged and challenged me just by his example.  There are a number of high voodoo priests that he's in contact with, and I was amazed to learn the extremity that the voodoo priests (and the government) go to try to appease their angry voodoo gods, whether it's performing rituals, striping people of their resources, putting "curses" on people, and even human sacrificing.  They perform unspeakable evil, yet this guy we met loves them, cares for them, and treats them like human beings even through all of that darkness.  He says that many have been transformed away from that evil culture, and are now some of the most loving and genuine people he knows.  That's the almighty power of love.  I want to work on having a more unconditional love like that.

I guess in summary, we had a really successful trip in that we were able to help a lot of people with their buildings, and I did get to learn a lot about engineering and construction.  But what I take home from the trip is a desire to do even more, whether in Haiti or not.  I don't know what that means for me yet, or whether I have the courage to do what I say I should do, but I do think there exists a better world out there if we do what we're supposed to.  And I think, for me at least, the first step to that is working on loving my neighbors more where ever I am.

Here are some pictures from our trip...

These are the Young Life director's two daughters, who were so excited to show us their house and where they live!

The Young Life director, with his kids and their friends

This is Haiti's presidential palace, damaged severely by the earthquake.  On the first Sunday we were there, we spent part of the afternoon driving around to see some of the destruction in Port-au-Prince.  The next couple photos are a few of the fallen buildings.

After being in Port-au-Prince for the first 3 nights, we took a small plane with Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) to a small town in north Haiti called Ranquitte.

At Ranquitte, we spent most of our time inspected a large school there of about 1300 kids.  One of the floors had some sagging issues as you see above.  The people in the picture are George the mayor and Renac the school's principal.

This is Ivy who took care of us while we were in Ranquitte.  She founded the school a long time ago and has been dedicated to serving the children of Ranquitte since she moved to Haiti from Jamaica in 1950.

Scott, Micah, and I with mayor George before leaving Ranquitte

An aerial shot from our Cesna plane ride back to Port-au-Prince from Ranquitte.  Notice the lack of trees on the mountains.  The country of Haiti deforested their land a couple decades ago to make charcoal, and are now paying the price for that by having little vegetation. 

This is an aerial shot of all a large tent city in the middle of nowhere.  The government moved large groups of people like this out of the city so they would appear to be solving the problem.  However, it separates the people from the city and creates a dependency on aid instead of being able to take care of themselves.

Our group with Children of Promise Int'l (COPI), and our driver, Samuel, in front.

Before parting ways with Pastor Joel.  This picture was taken in the morning, and we are heart-broken to learn that he went through a heart-attack and died that same afternoon.  We didn't know until we got home.  In our debriefing time, before we learned of his death, we all talked about genuine and compassionate he was and how much he meant to the kids in the orphanage he ran.  He will certainly be missed by many.

Micah and I with a little guy who loved playing with "Rocket Balloons"

At the site of Grace International, where for whatever reason, all the kids wanted to hold my hand!  Grace Int'l has a plot of land (where we are in the picture) that's fenced in, and before the earthquake there were about 100 people living there.  After the earthquake, however, that number grew to 30,000.

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