Cover Story


"Aftershock" Continued...

Issue: "The Haiti quake," Feb. 13, 2010

On a hot afternoon, Jean Claude, an elder at Eglise Chretienne Des Cities, a local church of 1,600, says people are coming to the church's collapsed gate daily, begging for help. The church has little to give and tells people to wait. He says aid groups come only sporadically.

But within 24 hours, Samaritan's Purse was formulating a plan to care for the residents in a tent city a few hundred yards from the church. The team will organize sanitation, clean water, food, and hygiene kits, and point residents to the nearby church for spiritual care, while also providing clean water and other relief in more remote areas outside the capital. For Jean Claude, it's an answer to prayer. He says he's been telling community members: "We will knock, and we know the Lord will open the door."

While international attention remains transfixed on Port-au-Prince, rural towns closer to the epicenter are even harder hit, but see far less aid. In Leogane, a town southwest of Port-au-Prince, some 90 percent of structures are destroyed. While the destruction in Port-au-Prince seems dramatic but random-with intact buildings standing next to collapsed structures-the devastation in Leogane appears complete.

On the side of a rutted road in Leogane, a man holds a sign asking for help. When relief workers ask him what he needs, he appears dazed and disoriented. "I'm dislocated," he mutters. "I need everything."

Villagers at a nearby orphanage need everything as well. The Haitian-run orphanage housed 30 children before the earthquake. A 10-year-old handicapped girl died when the structure collapsed. Franklin Marceus, who lives in the village, leads the way down a rubble-strewn road to show where the children live now: a series of tattered tents on a small patch of treeless land in the searing sun. Nearby, a woman cooks rice for the two dozen children in a small pot over an open fire. With nearly every home in the village destroyed or severely damaged, families can barely care for themselves. What will happen to the orphans? "We really don't know," says Marceus.

Further west in the town of Petit Goave, at least 500 people are dead and hundreds homeless. Under the shade of a few trees, a group of local pastors meet to discuss the need for clean water. As they meet, mangos plunk to the ground, shaken off a tree by a mild aftershock. These frequent aftershocks mean most people in this area-and all over Port-au-Prince-sleep outside, unsure if intact houses are safe to inhabit, compounding the problem of widespread homelessness.

After the meeting, I talk with Gedeon Sanon about what his community needs, but the pastor of a local Apostolic church is already thinking long-term: "The best way for people to help us is to help us do things for ourselves."

Sanon is director of a local group called Haitian Foundation for Assistance and Safe Development of People, a Haitian-run organization aiming to establish educational and agricultural projects for nationals. Before the quake, the group had a 20-year plan. Now they're starting from scratch. But Sanon says the organization's principles of a biblically based work ethic and just government remain the same. And he worries that poorly planned international aid could lead Haitians to rebuild the same problems that have kept them poverty-stricken for 200 years. "We've been receiving outside help for a long time, and things are only worse," he says. "If we can do it, we should do it ourselves."

Sanon, who fled a volatile Haiti with his family in 1990, says his mother calls him "a son of promise." "She promised God if He would spare our lives, she would dedicate me to His service," he says. That's why the pastor returned to Haiti eight years later. "If I am a son of promise, I have to go back," he told his mother. "I have to help the people, and I know the Lord will help me."

Charles Amicy is a son of promise too. The Haitian pastor and founder of Presbyterian Mission in Haiti (PMH), just north of Port-au-Prince in Cabaret, attended Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in South Carolina but returned to Haiti to serve his country with the gospel. His small compound includes a church, a school for 500 children, and an orphanage for 12.

These days the focal point of the compound is the makeshift clinic where Guillaume, the injured and bereaved mother of three, is seeking treatment. When I visited 11 days after the quake, three volunteer doctors and two nurses from Flying Doctors of America-a group that sends medical personnel into remote areas-were treating nearly 20 patients sprawled on twin mattresses on the cement floor of the church.


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