Haiti's New Season of Tragedy & Turmoil by Rev. Dr. Laura Alexander Elliott
November 1, 2021
By: Rev. Dr. Laura Alexander Elliott
As a Missionary under clergy appointment as a WNCC Deacon in Haiti, I’ve been in-country during some of the most trying experiences Haiti has suffered in recent times. A country that has often been through some of the most historic injustices and tragic events over decades and centuries—and whose routine daily life is challenging enough—has over the course of the past four months, been through the horrific assassination of their president in July, a 7.2 earthquake that tragically took the lives of thousands and destroyed many buildings, two book-end tropical storms that brought severe flooding, a Covid surge, the deportation back to their country of tens of thousands of refugees that the nation is ill-equipped to serve, and a major gang-related kidnapping of American missionaries that has roiled the country and spawned a whole new round of political and social unrest.
Our prayers are lifted daily for these manifold disasters of death and disease, tragedy and trauma that are afflicting the precious people who occupy this little island nation that shares a border with the Dominican Republic—and together the two countries constitute the island of Hispaniola, just several hundred miles from the shores of Florida. Haiti remains the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and ironically sits in such close proximity to the U.S. which is one of the richest in the world. Between 65 and 70% of Haiti’s population live in poverty, with the average Haitian subsisting on 3 dollars a day.
Mountains Beyond Mountains ~ Misery Upon Misery
That reality is what makes the tragic events they have suffered this summer and fall all the more daunting. There’s a proverb in Haiti that speaks of its “mountains beyond mountains,” which is both a literal description of the country’s topography and a figurative reference to the obstacles they are constantly striving to overcome. Following the most recent major earthquake in mid-August, I was honored and humbled to be able to travel with Dr. Maklin Eugene and his medical team from New Hope Hospital near Cap Haitien in northern Haiti, as they journeyed to the southern region near the epicenter, to provide humanitarian relief to victims and survivors. Over a week and a half, our team ministered to more than 1,000 residents in the rural outskirts of the city of Jeremie in the “Grand’Anse Dept.” of Haiti.
I flew via small biplane from Cap Haitien where I normally serve in the north, to the capital city of Port au Prince, and then on to Jeremie to embed with the team. We then drove daily over rugged terrain for 1 to 2 hours to get to a different remote village each day beyond Jeremie, and conduct a Mobile Medical Day-Clinic which would serve men, women, children, youth and the elderly with medical care and medications. Each daily mobile clinic was set-up in a centralized location in town, such as a church or open-air gathering shelter. We visited communities like Latibolière, where the existing health center had been completely decimated by the earthquake; Jeanbelain, where the team saw the most people in one place--231 patients in five hours; and Pestel, the smallest village where many of the already-inadequate dwellings throughout the area were all in various devastating stages of damage and destruction from the earthquake.
Humanitarian Assistance & Faithful Resilience
Dr. Eugene’s mission was to concentrate most of his team’s efforts toward the remote villages that the major earthquake relief initiatives were not necessarily reaching; however, they did also serve for a few days at the public hospital in the main city of Jeremie where he said their services were also needed due to a lack of adequate medical professionals to care for the overwhelming needs following the earthquake.
While the doctors and nurses tended to the injuries sustained by locals in the earthquake and provided other much-needed medical attention in areas where there is typically little access, my role as clergy was to attend to more spiritual, social, and emotional matters. I greeted folks and prayed with many of them, played with the children and young people, and visited with residents and leaders in the surrounding areas giving them the opportunity to show me what had happened to their homes, families, and villages as a result of the earthquake. I was also in charge of passing out goodies ~ the candy and cookies are a big hit with the children, and the lotion with the ladies and older girls!
I never cease to be amazed by the resilience of the Haitian people. Despite what they suffer, they are always open, friendly, and hospitable. After one of the mobile clinics held in a local church, we met with the pastor and his wife, who cooked for the team at the end of the day and served us dinner outside. Their house had sustained significant damage from the earthquake and was still quite unstable, yet there they were showing hospitality to visitors, and appreciation to the team who had come to serve their village!
And the faith of the Haitian people is always on such remarkable display ~ on the last day, we were in a town called BonBon where the El Shaddai Church held their Sunday Morning worship service, prior to the medical team taking it over to set up for the mobile clinic for the afternoon. I was able to also meet the pastor of this church, as well as pray with the congregation, as we moved from worship into service.
The Connection in Haiti
The Methodist-affiliated nonprofit that I serve as Director for is called Soaring Unlimited Haiti, it was started by United Methodist congregations in Michigan, and it has been serving the northern region of the country for more than 25 years. We provide education and nutrition programs, medical clinic services, sanitation projects in the form of clean water wells, economic and community development initiatives, and we are currently building a Women’s Health & Birth Center with our partner, Building Goodness Foundation out of Charlottesville, Virginia. I’m thankful that in recent years during my tenure, Soaring has also been able to become part of the Northern Haiti Mission Connection of the Western North Carolina Annual Conference. In addition to Michigan and N.C., we also receive support from churches in Florida, Minnesota—and most recently—Nevada. We are governed by a talented and devoted 12-member Board of Directors centered in Michigan and representing various congregations in the Traverse City and Lansing areas.
I’m very proud of and grateful to my Haitian Staff members who have loyally and courageously carried on our programs and services despite the many obstacles they must overcome—especially in recent times. My staff has also helped me implement how our whole organization could be a part of the many efforts to bring relief to their Haitian sisters and brothers in great peril in the earthquake-ravaged southern region. Through collaborating with Dr. Eugene at New Hope and other partners on the ground in Haiti that include Meds & Food for Kids’ Medika Mamba Factory, Days for Girls of Cap Haitien, Cap Deli Restaurant, the Haiti Health Network, Pure Water for the World, Mission Flights International, and Partners 4 New Hope/Western N.C. Annual Conf., Soaring was able to share resources to provide:
~emergency humanitarian food aid to feed some 250 families
~300 medical-grade high-protein peanut-butter supplement bars
~75 feminine hygiene kits for women and girls
~a dozen boxes of toiletry/health kits and clothing
~financial assistance for medications and transportation for the mobile clinics
Latest Test of Haiti’s Fortitude
Many thanks to so many who have reached out during these trying times in our beloved Haiti! Soaring is grateful that all our people and facilities have remained safe and secure. I’m particularly appreciative of your prayers that helped bring me home safe to the U.S. two weeks ago after the kidnapping of the 17 American and Canadian missionaries. Please continue to pray for them and all missionaries who remain, for Soaring staff and partners, all those we serve on the ground & all the people of Haiti and the nation!
Banks and other businesses in Haiti have been closed off-and-on in recent weeks, along with schools ~ I’m grateful there was at least one day our Asst. Dir. could get access to the funds for Soaring’s end-of-October payroll. Our Clinic has had to be closed for a number of days due to road blocks and protests ~ but we’ve thankfully been back open again. Gas shortages have threatened to shut down hospitals that would have no power to care for patients if their generators can’t run, and without gas for their operations, the phone and internet providers could also be shut down, cutting off communications for families, businesses, and NGO’s ~ Soaring staff is so resilient and resourceful, yet tell me they are once again scavenging for gas to operate our agency vehicle for the week—and even if they can find it, the cost has skyrocketed to between $15 - $20 per gallon.
The kidnapped missionaries continue to be held hostage, and gang dominance in the capital city—which has filled the power vacuum since the president was assassinated—is impacting this flow, not only of gasoline, but food and water in some cases as well. These kidnappings have been a major factor all year, as has Covid-19 and the South is still far from recovery from the earthquake.
Local-Global Haitian Help
Soaring continues to seek ways to assist with these many struggles, and we are also trying to determine how we might serve the Haitian refugees who were deported from the southern border of the U.S. and returned to Haiti—in many cases after living for years in Central America. In the meantime, approximately 15 of the Haitian refugees—including a number of children—who were able to enter the U.S. to await hearings for their asylum claims have been sponsored by people in the Charlotte area, and are currently living nearby.
They need food, clothing, housing, furniture, and financial assistance—as well as help finding employment, getting their kids into school, having transportation to appointments, and locating other types of assistance and support. Churches in the Metro District of the WNCC are being called upon to help provide the hospitality, resources, and community services to care for and support our Haitian friends and neighbors who have come among us. If you or your congregation is interested in participating in this local Haitian Refugee Initiative, please contact me (Rev.Dr.Laura Alexander-Elliott) at firstname.lastname@example.org or 704-707-5301. (We are also willing to collaborate to assist recent Afghani refugees in this effort as well.)
Patience, Perseverance & Persistent Faith
Now more than ever, Haiti needs our prayers, love, and support, and Soaring and our Methodist and Other Partners are committed to continuing our ministries for our friends and neighbors in such great need and experiencing suffering like never before! Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer! And while you pray knowing it is in God’s hands, align your actions with your prayers, and strive to engage in your work in the world in ways that will allow God to use you to fulfill God’s purposes, as you offer the help and support so greatly needed and called for to alleviate the suffering and pain of our brothers and sisters ~
Habakkuk 2:20 was the scripture painted above the altar on the church wall at Eglise Bethel ---one of the churches where we held a mobile clinic after the recent earthquake: “....The Lord is in (the) holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before (God)!” #Prayers4Haiti