The Eye of the Needle
A certain calm covered us, as we all agreed we had to go. There was no question. There’s too much to be done. Even though we have not been able to have teams come and we would not dare bring a group in at this time, we felt confident that we were supposed to come, and that we would get through. Marc, Tammy Love and I bought our tickets in faith, believing that a path would clear and we would be able to get back down to Haiti this November.
As we boarded the plane on Friday in Calgary with the max pieces of luggage we could, anticipation swelled in my heart as I thought about what we might find. The plane to Port-Au-Prince was only half full and the airport was unusually empty.
We swept through immigration, baggage retrieval and customs with no crowds, then shuffled outside in the heat to meet our driver, Ronald. We booked the flights to arrive on Saturday since the weekend is the only breath between protests, but Ronald still had an angst in his expression as he greeted us because our flight arrived in the afternoon and we did not have much daylight left ahead of us.
You see, there has been a plague of discontent and frustration that has swept over Haiti, with an unjust, corrupt government that is unconcerned with the plight of it’s people’s daily struggle. It has been like a swelling infection, inflamed by the PetroCaribe scandal & the disappearance of 3 billion dollars in development money that did not develop anything in Haiti. This red hot infection has come to a head and burst, with incessant rioting, unrest, and nation-wide protests demanding the government be held accountable and calling for President Jovenel Moise to step down since his name has been implicated in the scandal. Over 80% of the population are barely eeking survival off of less than $2 a day. Prices for everything have tripled. Protests have been the regular monthly occurrence for over a year, and has now turned into a straight 11 weeks of complete shut down of the country’s operations. No schools are running, government offices are closed, public services unavailable, many businesses have been burned, only ¼ of the country is receiving city power for a meager 4-6 hours a night, and fuel shortages threaten transport companies and anyone just trying to get home or to the market. But the worst is a nature of barricades and road blocks that are turning people on themselves; extortionists and gangs taking advantage to rape and pillage from those they can seize. That is no longer protest towards the government. That’s turning towards anarchy… and the president still does not seem to be listening. These gangs have bases all along the highway, which there is only one of through the entire country. Their major target is transport trucks, which they confiscate from innocent drivers, steal the goods, maneuver the trucks to obstruct the road completely, then slash all the tires so they cannot be moved. This has caused a heightened sense of fear and anxiety in everyone, stopping all movement throughout the country and making it impossible for supplies and goods to be delivered. A humanitarian crisis is at hand if not already in play, as the World Food Program estimated just last week that 1 in 3 Haitians are at risk of starvation since they have no access to food, to get to the market, and in some places, to even get water.
But we took the risk. We’ve faced all sorts of risks before working in Haiti; The coup d’etat of Aristide in 2004, hurricanes in 2005, 2008, 2012 and 2015, the earthquake of 2010. These challenges cannot dissuade us from fulfilling our call to help, to keep believing and working towards a better tomorrow. Haiti ARISE must carry on, thus we must still come.
So we set out on the second leg of our journey, now in country, the risky part. Ronald informed us we would have to snake our way through the city to avoid dangerous areas and major roadblocks on the main roads. We weren’t the only ones with that idea and we soon came upon our first traffic jam on a narrow side street that would usually only barely be one lane. But the large trucks were also doing their best to avoid the main roads and one had stalled on the hill coming down ahead of us, while another small tap-tap truck struggled to climb with his strained load. It took a band of other concerned drivers and strong men to help push it up. We watched as he slid back down the hill twice and then with a huge billow of black exhaust and his pedal to the metal and got up. We got through that one only to be met by five more gridlocked jams that looked more like a Tetris game than actual traffic with vehicles facing every which way. Good-willed passengers & passer-by’s jumped out to take charge and direct vehicles; this one back up, this one move forward, let the motorbikes sneak through, watch out for that curb, pull your backup mirrors in. The whole ride we prayed that God would bring us through like a tunnel, make the way where there seemed to be none. It’s definitely not the first time we’ve seen traffic like this. In Port-Au-Prince crazy traffic is a given. But with the heightened sense of anxiety, everyone was jumping at their chance to get ahead, or to help others get ahead. To get out of the city, a drive that would normally take 2 hours took us 5. And normally, once out of the city, we’re free and clear all the rest of the way home. Not this day. As we came to another town, a major intersection to continue west or turn south, there was a mangled mess of an accident involving a tap-tap and a large bus. This delayed us for another hour waiting for the traffic to clear. Again, not something we haven’t seen before, but given the current situation, the accident was surely a result of anxious drivers rushing to get through. AS we headed farther along, a line of transport trucks gave us a good indication of what was around the bend. Our last major delay was just 15 minutes from home, but was a real, tried and true roadblock and there was no way anyone was getting to the other side by that road. Two mack trucks with containers were crisscrossed horizontally across the roads with the tires slashed. Not even a bike could pass on the side. Fortunately, we have friends. Marc made a call and three guys showed up on motorbikes. The group effort of many helped us get turned around, squeeze between a space that felt like the eye of a needle between lines of big trucks, then dipped down a side dirt road that weaved through the village and into the riverbed below the bridge that was blocked overhead. We followed our three guides for a few miles through the rocky riverbed then up another side road that met back with the highway, revealing another set of road blocks we managed to bypass unscathed. We were through! Like a funnel, God led us through. We arrived to Haiti ARISE campus last night at 9pm after a 7-hour drive from the airport, and praising God just as it began to rain, hard.
It was a pleasure to surprise everyone this morning at church. No one thought we would come, but they are so encouraged we did.
This afternoon we headed to the beach to tackle our first point on our to-do list. I know you are thinking, ‘enjoy the ocean,' but that was just a side benefit. We went to see the art vendors at Taino Beach. We know that since no one can travel to Haiti right now, there are no tourists, no humanitarian workers, no missionaries, no buyers. This is just one group of people that this crisis is severely affecting. The beach was desolate. No one enjoying crystal waters. And it did not take the vendors long to find us. With their wares packed in rice sacks, stashed away in nearby places, they unloaded all their merchandise stretched out on sheets with hopes that we would buy even just one item. And we did. Tammy and I came with this in mind, to purchase artwork to bring back with us to sell at the Dec 6 fundraiser, at churches and marketplace shows when we travel. If buyers cannot come to Haiti, then we will bring Haiti back to buyers. We successfully bought awesome artwork from all of the 20 vendors. Now we are hoping some of you reading this will be ready to get some cool, handmade Christmas gifts. And it will be a gift with a purpose, you doing your small part to help make a difference for Mamai or Jean Robert who will now be able to feed their families this week.
Our plans will continue over the next two weeks while we are here: Updates with the Children’s Village families, training of our new office staff, adjusting our 2020 budget considering the circumstances, encouraging our staff and church to remain strong, food distributions for our community and sponsored students in our Ed Fund program (if we can get supplies), and evangelism in the community. Marc also has high hopes to try to tackle some work projects, but that is all contingent on being able to secure supplies.
We covet your prayers. It is a challenging time, but it’s not impossible. We know God is not finished yet and what He’s done before, He can do again. He can rebuild a people and a nation that has fallen. But we need Him to sustain us while she’s still down. The problems are not over yet and we need courage to face them and push through. We are grateful to be here, and we will make it through.
A note concerning travel for all of our friends and churches that have plans to come on a team: As of right now the rest of our 2019 teams have been canceled, but we are not canceling teams in 2020 yet. We will plan as if all is well til one month before a trip. No flights will be booked until then if we are confident it will be safe to bring in teams. We would not put anyone at undo risk by bringing in teams if the conditions in Haiti are still unstable and risky. The situation could turn around without notice and improve.