It was my first time in Haiti, not just since the earthquake, but ever. I still remember our relief on January 12 a few hours after the quake when we reached Bobby via Skype and were able to confirm that Bobby and Sherry were alive and their orphanage, medical clinic, and ministry center were all intact. In the days and weeks that followed, the Love A Child compound was converted into a field hospital with the help of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative as the injured streamed and were hauled into the little town of Fond Parisien.
Bobby and Sherry moved to Haiti in 1991, to become full time missionaries. Little did they know that all of their efforts, sacrifices, and heartaches were preparing them for the day when the entire country would be transformed in less than one minute’s time.
During my 50 hours in Haiti, I witnessed and heard the overwhelming mass of the problem. Over 220,000
On the approach into Port au Prince I looked down on a beautiful blue/green harbor, not at all dissimilar to Oahu, or Cancun. Then the city slowly appeared in ever denser white dots on the green hillside. A little less altitude and I could see many of those dots were piles of rubble, not buildings. Homes, offices, businesses, churches... still lying there in a hopeless heap, uncounted bodies of thousands still buried beneath.
Then I noticed the tents. Pockets of tents everywhere. Dirty white, faded gray, and many with blue tarps (the Wal Mart kind) as a second roof to cover the weather-worn holes in the mostly-donated tents. I knew what I would see in Haiti would be in many ways horrific, and as we touched down I began to prepare myself mentally for an experience beyond all my frames of reference.
We landed at 7:30 AM. It had to be over 90 degrees F with a similar humidity reading. By 10:00 we were in Fond Parisien touring the Love A Child compound and Camp Hope - currently a tent city but with new, permanent housing being built by Love A Child via private donations. There was a special section of the Camp Hope tent city for the amputees in an attempt to be able to address their special needs most efficiently until the housing was completed. Grandmas on crutches, young men, teenagers, children. It had rained the night before, but the people seemed undeterred by the mud and the ferocious heat.
Sherry told us about the people in the camp. Many were teachers, secretaries, artists... but now they were living in tents redefining for me the definition of a meager existence. We saw the new houses being built, a pocket of hope in the midst of massive destruction and despair.
Up the road just a mile or two we turned off onto a dirt road, and I am being generous with the word “road”. About one-half mile off the main road next to the lake lay the village of Le Tant. Stick and mud huts with thatched roofs. It was like we had driven through a stargate of sorts and been catapulted backwards at least 500 years. These were the lucky people. The quake may have capsized their huts, but those could be easily restored and a collapsed hut was not likely to cause death or limb removal. Still, even these people, struggling daily to survive before the quake, now found themselves not trapped under concrete rubble, but mired even deeper in the economic abyss which is now Haiti.
The situation in Haiti is not bad. Such an improvement that would be, to be just “bad”. As the images come back I find myself even now choked up a bit, as I diffuse the feeling with a quick sip of iced coffee. That’s Starbucks iced coffee, a grande, with skim milk and one Splenda, thank you.
There are pockets of hope like Love a Child. I saw many private organizations, many of them Christian ministries, that were doing great work down there. It’s just that there are too many homeless, and not enough pockets. Yet, the spirit and the attitudes of the Haitian people are remarkable. They will make you cry, I don’t care how grizzled and tough you are.
Next January 12 the world news will once again be focused on Haiti as the one-year anniversary of the disaster arrives. There will be some miraculous stories, some incredible tales of people who are making a difference... but the big story will likely be that not all that much has happened in a year. There will still be mountains of rubble to be removed, acres of city to be rebuilt, countless homeless people...
And then, as the remembrance of the first year anniversary comes to a close we will be tempted to once again acknowledge the tragedy, express our sympathy for the victims, toss a buck or two in the bucket to salve our consciences, and move on with the next big news and our busy lives.
Bobby and Sherry Burnette have a slogan for their ministry that is impressive because it embodies the way they have lived their lives. It’s simple - “Love Is Something You DO!”
It certainly is, Bobby and Sherry...it most certainly is.