We Will Wait
by Lisa Honorat
“ We can make our own plans, but the Lord gives the right answer.” Proverbs 16:1
My husband, Marc and I are the international directors of a large ministry that is recognized as a Canadian charity, US 501C3 and Haitian non-governmental organization called Haiti ARISE Ministries. We have been in this work full time since 2003, living between Haiti and Canada and regularly traveling to and fro for the purposes of the work we do. We have established an elementary, high school and technical college, a medical clinic, a legal aid office, a children’s village for orphans, a goat farm and 9 churches with a full time team of 130 staff to run the operations that we oversee. If you would ask anyone that has been directly involved or benefited from the work of Haiti ARISE, either in Haiti or in North America, I believe they would all tell you our work is essential.
This is the first year in all of our 17 years of the ministry that I had been away from Haiti for almost a full year and Marc had not been able to be in Haiti for 7 months due to the restrictions caused by the global pandemic of COVID. We had many plans for the year 2020 that did not materialize. Our April and August trips were postponed, over 12 missionary and work teams were canceled, and many projects were put on hold. We waited… until a space finally opened for travel to resume. Flights re-opened, Haiti had stabilized and we booked for December to come for one month with our whole family taking into consideration that we would still have to quarantine when we return, because my work is not considered essential by the Canadian government.
We left Dec 9, just one day after Alberta announced extensive lockdowns of restaurants, businesses, schools and home gatherings. Travel was discouraged, but still allowed and flights were still on schedule with many protocols in place. The day we flew out the Calgary airport was virtually empty, with only two international flights going out and one restaurant open. It was eerie. We wore our masks, sanitized our hands, kept our distance and made it all the way to Haiti by the next morning. In the Port-Au-Prince airport, the protocols were a bit of a joke; people pushed and shoved to get off the plane, the wait for immigration was a weave of crowded lines, and at the immigration desk every single person had to give a set of fingerprints on screens that were not wiped down once between any passengers. Obviously, Haiti is not concerned with COVID. And the small number of cases that hasn’t changed since May shows it. There is very little to no sign of any pandemic present here.
I can’t tell you how relieved and free we felt to be here. In the sun, with lots of vitamin D and access to natural remedies that combat viruses effectively, the Haitians boast they are overcoming COVID. They actually talk about it like it’s already a thing of the past. And believe me, if it was actually present here and people were getting very ill, it would be known. Everyone would be talking about it. But it’s not, so they have gone on with life, lifting most of the restrictions that were in place months ago. You may see the odd person wearing a mask on the street or if you want to enter the bank.
Our month of the time we planned to be here was wonderful. Our kids connected with old friends, and have spent time with people rather than being shut up in our home. They’ve been able to be involved in many different areas of the ministry; cleaning our project worksites, preparing medical prescriptions in the clinic, serving hot lunches to our elementary students, planning games with the children’s village kids, playing basketball with community boys and leading a girls dance group to perform in our church. We held a large Christmas celebration for all of our Haiti ARISE staff. We received four new children into our children’s village. We hosted our 3-day leadership and pastors conference. Marc had been overseeing our construction crews working on the new school cafeteria and I got a lot of administrative and accounting work done in our office. It was a full month and we were getting ready to return to Canada on Jan 10 for the kids to get back to school, even though there was still much to do here.
On January 7, we learned Canada had imposed a new rule on travelers returning to Canada. We’d have to obtain a negative COVID test; not just a rapid antigen test that is accepted in every other country, but a PCR test required 72 hours before boarding our flights. This posed a problem for us in Haiti. That meant we’d have to get our tests the next day and there was no information as to where that could be done. Haiti, a country of 12 million people, already did not have adequate testing available for their own population, let alone now being required to offer testing to travelers. So we changed our tickets to Jan 21 to give us some time to figure out how to obtain this test. Just after we changed our flights, Canadian government announced Haiti could be exempt from this requirement until Jan 21, but if we entered Canada without a test, we could be detained and required to quarantine in a government facility for 14 days. I would rather find the test than be detained.
We received notifications from the US and Canadian Embassy that there were four locations providing PCR testing in Haiti. All four locations were at least 3 hours away, and required driving right into the heart of the capital where kidnappings and violent protests have been rampant as of late. Marc said no way, my family is not going now. So we decided to postpone our flights until things were calmer and we could secure testing appointments. We were planning for Feb 15 so the kids could be back at school for the end of their term and before the start of the new trimester.
But now as of the latest announcement by the Canadian government, in addition to the PCR testing, all Canadian airline flights to/from Mexico and the Caribbean to Canada have been suspended until April 30 and ALL returning international travelers will be required to be tested AGAIN and quarantine for 3-14 days in a government facility upon arrival to the tune of $2000 per person! These restrictions upon restrictions being imposed make me very uncomfortable and do not make me want to return to Canada anytime soon. Canada is making it literally impossible for their own citizens to return home. We do not have $12-14,000 to spend on a quarantine stay that we could safely do in our own home for free.
There also is an element of public shaming now happening as well upon Canadians who chose to travel, either over the holidays or for extended stays away such as snow-birds, putting a blame of irresponsibility and endangering others lives. My feeling is my family and I are actually way safer in Haiti at the moment than Canada and that says a lot. Haiti is a volatile nation with a lot of political unrest and dangerous crime. In fact, just after Canada’s last announcement of imposed travel restrictions over the weekend, Haiti announced a country wide lockdown of its own for political reasons, that started last Sunday and will carry on all week, with no vehicles allowed to circulate, schools shut down and planned protests taking place against the current president, demanding him to step down from office Feb 7. If he does not there will likely be an outbreak of violent riots. But even so, where we are in Grand-Goave, we are relatively safe. And there is no evidence of COVID cases present here. I do not want to be punished as the guilty party bringing any virus variant back to Canada, putting my fellow countrymen at risk when I am coming back from a sunny location where it’s not even present.
Our friend and neighbour from Airdrie, Barry Hoffman, travels with us to Haiti every year to volunteer with Haiti ARISE. He came with us a year ago in January and he returned this January to spend a month here. He was scheduled to fly out Feb 3. But with the current lockdown situation, no ample time from the government to fulfill their demands, and no means to spend in a quarantine facility, he cannot leave either. We may likely be here a while.
Nevertheless, I would rather be here, where we can do our work that is essential to our community here. We have had a highly productive 2nd month with numerous staff meetings to challenge and encourage our people. We’ve been able to start new operations of three large transport trucks donated to us by Samaritans Purse to deliver sand and gravel to our community. We’ve had some divine appointments meeting with a local elderly pastor who’s been looking for someone to pass over his work to. We’re working on building a basketball court and soccer field for our community. We’re holding interviews with potential new staff to fill open positions in the ministry as we grow. I’m hoping we will be able to find 2 new midwives to open our birthing centre fully while we are still here. And we are preparing for another food distribution to our communities and other areas represented where our churches are.
So for now, we will wait. We set our plans aside to wait for God’s answers in all of this. We must set our heart to His will, timing and provision, knowing that he will make a way even when there seems to be no way. I am grateful to be in Haiti, where we can freely move, love other people expressively, and move forward with the calling He has for us here. I am not ready to return to a place where I will be forced to quarantine in an undisclosed location, then required to stay inside my home, not allowed to visit my aged in-laws, not be able to eat in a restaurant or meet a friend in a coffee shop, and subject my kids to frequent sanitizing measures that could actually be more harmful to their health in the long run. I can be a part of the solution by being in Haiti, serving where my work is actually deemed essential.