On September 10, 2008, I flew into Haiti for the first time. This also happened to be the day after the 3rd consecutive hurricane hit the island within a week, causing major flooding and mudslides injuring hundreds and destroying homes and crops. For weeks and months following the storms, the Mission of Hope staff were in rescue mode - housing a whole orphanage of children in our on-campus high school, running mobile clinics in local villages and distributing food and clothes to those who were displaced.
To this day, the bricks of two remaining walls of a home still remain on the side of the Cabaret river - a reminder of the midnight panic that came in the form of a mudslide to the local residents, chasing families from their beds and wiping out homes. I will never forget driving through the villages just days after landing in Haiti and seeing the flooded roads, piles of water logged garbage and homeless families. It was a terrible disaster - One that we are still scarred from.
Last January, which seems like only yesterday, the earthquake hit. In less than a minute, the country faced one of most devastating natural disasters in history. Hunched over and barefoot on the gravel road outside the guesthouse, my eyes beheld the magnitude of the impact as the dust cloud rose from the mountain of Port-au-Prince skyline. In the minutes, hours, days, weeks and months to follow, each of us here at the mission witnessed the heartbreak in the lives of our Haitian co-workers and friends. You've all seen the pictures - collapsed homes, mass graves, hundreds of amputees, tent cities and on and on.
It's been over 10 months since the quake, and each time I travel into the city I see more progress as wooden shacks are built by NGO's and roads are less cluttered as rubble is transported to the hillsides. As much as these small steps move toward a better tomorrow, evidence of brokenness still exists everywhere - reminding me that we've barely touched the tip of the iceberg. The presidential palace still cowers behind lavish iron fences - the central peak descended deepest into the rubble. Cement cracks are everywhere from homes, balcony accents, office buildings, highways and break walls. Sensations of aftershocks leave school kids injured from panicked exits and emotional scarring.
Each day at the Mission we press forward, each day we do our utmost to rebuild and heal and foster transformation in the lives of these broken people, but it takes it's toll. It's not easy witnessing this type of pain and desperation day after day when you know you'll be seeing it for years and years to come. Sometimes it's just hard to see the silver lining.
Within months of my arrival to Haiti the 3rd time around, Haiti was once again on the front lines of another hurricane. By the grace of God, our surrounding village area at the Mission did not receive the harsh storm conditions that the hurricane forecasters were calling for. Although parts of the island were flooded and tent city residents were forced to leave their humble dwellings, we can be thankful that it was no worse.
And yet as we let out our breath in relief, another disaster is taking shape. Or should I say, it's here. Cholera.
What began as a rapid outbreak hours from us has been gradually trickling through villages and popping up through various locations around the island. Medical groups have tried their best to treat and contain the illness, but it continues to spread, and the lack of hygiene in tent cities and marketplaces offers little proactivity and prevention. For the past few weeks, our church, clinic and schools have reinforced proper preventative strategies to the locals in our area. Still, the awareness in the country hasn't been able to stop the rising death toll. Yesterday, a team from our mission travelled to a cholera treatment centre about 20 minutes away. What Sarah explained to me upon her return was so sad and so desperate. The sickness is fast-acting and the patients are extremely needy. Medical personnel are risking their own health to aid others, but there are barely enough of them to treat the masses that arrive for treatment each day.
In the midst of all of this, there is a presidential election taking place next Sunday - the 28th of this month. No matter where you go outside the mission gates you see graffiti, posters on walls and cars, as well as banners and billboards promoting the candidates. It's been like this since the summer. We are now less than two weeks away and it's reaching to new heights. Reports of violence are surfacing in the city streets. Fires, gunshots, violent outbreaks are all in the headlines. Our staff exchange daily news reports and are continually aware of the growing chaos. We all agree that this is a country in need of a new start. The people are in need of a leader who can bring unity and healing. Haiti deserves a fresh slate, and yet it seems like with every step forward we take two steps back.
Somehow, despite the brokenness and the needs of the people in the country, I am reminded each day that hope the Haitian people hold onto is real. To be honest, I don't get it.
The people of Haiti are more resilient than any other country or group I know. They just don't give up. Pondering all of the destruction that I wrote about above, I can't imagine enduring even one of them and remain standing. These people have witnessed so much pain and yet they press on, celebrating the victory of their freedom as a country, and believing in a better tomorrow, all the while celebrating the joy of heaven that will someday be theirs forever.
It's lived out through the women that arrive on the mission bus week after week with amputated limbs, coming to work at 3 cords. Despite their disability, they believe that they can make a living and support their families. That takes courage.
It's in the high school students that return to school week after week despite losing family members and friends just months before. They believe that they can graduate and make something of themselves. They haven't forgotten their dreams or let their pain excuse them from pressing on. That takes determination.
It's in the Haitian staff, from the doctors and drivers to the cooks and security guards. Still suffering from post-traumatic stress and depression, they faithfully fulfill their roles at the mission believing that their work is making a positive impact on the people around them. They don't quit or neglect their jobs in reaching out to others. That takes faith.
I don't know what is to come next for Haiti. Honestly, I don't like to think about it for fear of the worst. Part of me wants to to brace myself for another tragedy, but because of the Haitian's around me, part of me is inspired to hang onto hope that morning will come. Please pray along with me that the Lord would be evidently present in Haiti in the days, weeks, months and years to come. That the wounds and diseases would cease and band aid remedies would be cast aside. Pray that the cholera epidemic would be miraculously contained and cured. That God's peace would cover His people. Pray for the new leader of this country. Pray that they will have discernment and a heart for the poorest of the poor. Finally, pray for those who have lost hope, that it may be rekindled and fanned into a flame that lights the way for tomorrow.