The morning sun began to illuminate the night sky, and we were already four hours into our day. We had just loaded 17 tons of food undercover and sent off our payload to our final destination. With the team in our vans, we were finally headed to the province of Damassin.
Leaving the city of La Cayes towards the coastline, the footprints of Hurricane Matthew were becoming very real. Electrical poles were toppled over houses like dominoes for miles. The pattern of roofless houses and hollow frames of buildings, stood staring at us like ghosts of a once beautiful town. Tall coconut trees & plants forcefully bowed face down in one direction, exposing the towns bare of it’s beauty.
Sitting in the van, the reactions of the team began to popcorn throughout the ride. Comments of shock and surprise began to contrast against my seasoned heart that oddly felt no reaction to what I was seeing. This is all I knew of Haiti; destruction, poverty, and the overwhelming sense of need. I thought nothing of it until I realized that this beautiful coast was never hit by the earthquake in 2010. Only then did I notice the destruction was fresh, and the remnants of beauty were still there peeking through the rubble.
Passing the villagers, many were rebuilding their homes frame by frame. Most were using mere branches from fallen trees, using old rusty nails and tarps to rebuild what was left of their homes. I flew the drone to get a better view of the city. A coastline that was once filled with beaches were now blackened by soil and sediment, leaving only traces of it’s former beauty. Even more disheartening, was the fact they were rebuilding their homes on top of the destruction by the coast. There was no where for them to go.
After two hours we arrived to the small coastal town of Damassin. After planning with the local authorities, we had decided to have the distribution behind the catholic church north of the town. We arrived to a peaceful and small crowd waiting early for us. But as we slowly rolled unto the property, I felt uncertainty fill the air around me. It wasn’t about the current reality, but the speculation of just one loose screw that could flop the whole operation. The day before, the unfortunate accident at the port was caused by one kid who’s desperation for food, surpassed the risk of getting shot. Unfortunately, it cost him his life. Desperation and fear in moments of survival is hard to manage in oneself, let alone within the thousands that were about to arrive.
Within 30 minutes, our crowd of one hundred became a few thousand. Everyone from the elderly to young children flooded the vicinity. Before it got out of hand, we quickly parked our massive truck as a wall against the entrance to create a barrier. The alley to the entrance looked like a scene from Israel’s exodus out of Egypt. The initial strategy was to let 25 people in at a time to distribute the payload. Only members of family that had a specialized ticket would be able to enter.
Behind the scenes, the Catholic church became a bees nest of hard workers taking raw materials and creating hand-made blessings. Like a well oiled machine, the team was installing 1000 water filters. The pews of the sanctuary were filled edge to edge with buckets as the sun rays pierced through what was left of the churches roof.
Back outside, only after about a few rotations did we begin to see tension rise as the flaws of our system become more apparent. Off in the distance I saw elderly being sandwiched from the mass of people pushing to enter in a single file line. Philipson alone was putting out more fires than any team could handle. Having everyone complaining with a dramatic reason why they should enter first was a nightmare.
At one point, even the catholic priest brought it upon himself to create a special line for “his people”. In the Haitian culture, the catholic priests are on the top of the food chain of religious authority. Evangelical pastors are unfortunately synonymous with the voodoo witch doctors. They are seen as mere equals. So in this moment of chaos, it was a clear abuse of power with no one to oppose his actions.
But God’s children getting food, was more important than cultural hierarchies. Philipson had to maintain control and not break the system we had in place. If else, every battle won up till now would have been for nothing. So in front of hundreds of Haitians, He felt the Lord tell him to do the most outrageous thing. He proceeded by getting on both knees and said to the Priest “I honor you, but I absolutely will not respect your line. We must maintain this system to have everyone fed”. The Priest stood staring back in disbelief. He was in shock, speechless. With the crowds eyes now on him, he disbanded his line and humbly cooperated until the end of the operation. A small battle was won, but only to have two more just like it arise.
All of us could feel the tipping point approaching. There was no order and all of our five senses collided with the wall of a tangible angst. More were getting frustrated, and less were getting the relief they came for. Then the yelling began along with self-proclaimed vigilantes trying to control the crowd who had zero authority. In due time, one line became two, two became three, and what was left of the controlled chaos was now just a crowd of desperate people surrounding our truck. People began leaking into the compound from all around us until there was no line at all. So regrettably, we abandoned our original plan and closed the doors of the truck.
17 tons of food, thousands of frustrated villagers and an inch away from failure. We rendezvous’din the catholic church to center our hearts. With windows wrapped around the building, we were exposed like animals in a zoo. At every opening, all you could see were Haitian eyes staring back at you. Children would laugh or smile back. Some would motion their hands to their mouth signaling they were hungry. Most stared at us with a dissonant confusion wondering why weren’t giving what we promised. But in that moment, we didn’t need another plan. We needed the presence of God, so we worshipped.
In unison we began to sing, “Our God is an Awesome God” as our voices echoed throughout the church. It was a surreal moment to respond to the mountains of trials & tribulations by enthroning Jesus. The world outside would deem us as fools or even failures, yet we knew deep in our hearts it was actually our greatest strategy. It brought back memories of the house of prayer in St. Marc, worshipping & praying day and night during the cholera epidemic. If my memory served me right, God would show up in His way for our greatest good. It was a reminder that Worship, was our Weapon of Warfare.
As we were singing, I saw one of our Haitian sisters, Laica, lean in and share something with Philipson. She felt God had shared a vision of the villagers flowing in and out of the catholic church being blessed by us. She felt it was a strategy to reorganize the whole distribution around the church. To be candid, it was an insane and very unsafe idea. What that logistically meant was that we would now have to transport all 17 tons of food inside of the church from the truck without any disruptions. But without hesitation, Philipson strategized with the priest and made it happen. The church was apparently now the new control center for the distribution.
With the help of 20 locals, every bag of rice & beans flowed into the sanctuary. Our new helpers began taking initiative of the operation inside, filling each bucket with food to prepare for the incoming citizens. It was as if we were standing in the eye of a tornado, finding peace as we watched Haitians taking initiative and sacrificing to help their own all around us. The spirit we witnessed outside, was no longer present. No disruptions. Just people helping one another. All the food was miraculously brought in safely.
Using three separate entrances, one by one people flowed through the church to pick up their buckets & food. Getting in was still a challenge as people flooded each gateway. Our team had to drag people in by hand to overcome the crowd. Flying the drone around the church, It reminded me of a scene pulled from The Walking Dead. The church was completely surrounded by Haitians still causing a ruckus and pushing fiercely to get in. But once they entered there was a visible sigh of relief & joy, walking away with food & filter in hand. Each smile seen on their faces made us forget the challenges we faced to get here.
In less than two hours, we found ourselves once again staring at empty pews. There were no more food or buckets to pass out. The mission, was a radical success. No riots, no violence; just a few angry people along the way. And in Haiti, thats considered a solid win.
I remember asking Philipson, what in his right made him agree to Laica’s vision. In hindsight some confessed they thought it was a crazy and stupid idea. It opposed all forms of conventional logic as it was just too risky. But Philipson said something I’ll never forget. He replied “Because I wanted her to know that she could hear God’s voice, and that she too was made to be a leader”. That one small spiritual lesson of humility & faith, was a catalyst to our success. Laica’s faith to speak out what she saw from God, coupled with Philipson’s faith to see the leadership in Laica, released God’s strategy to succeed. In the end, thousands were blessed day, and a leader was being formed before our eyes.
Returning home to Les Cayes, our past 14 hours felt like a dream. As we arrived to our guest house, we ran into an ambassador who had been attempting to distribute 1000 bags of rice per day. She represented a very large non-profit that sent first responders to disaster sites all across the world. She was in disbelief as we shared about what we had accomplished. Apparently almost every distribution she had attempted was cut short due to violence or unrest. It was humbling to hear, but only confirmed God’s hand in our mission.
As the house fell asleep, Philipson and I were in the kitchen sitting in silence. With giddy smiles on our faces, all we could conjure up were 20 variations of “I can’t believe we did it; it was a miracle”. And still as I sit in my living room in Los Angeles, I have yet to explain the journey we experienced in Haiti. It sounds painfully cliche to say every point of the operation was carried by God’s hand. But in our case, it would be a disservice to the events that unfolded; and even more so to your prayers we witnessed manifesting around us.
Because of your support, the people of Haiti have something to build their lives upon. It isn’t merely the food or water filters, but the surpassing hope they encountered that comes from Christ. Thousands of lives were blessed by your prayers & contributions, and the team and I cannot thank you enough for extending your faith in us. With this initial operation, we will continue to build a relationship with the local authorities to further bless the province. Also because of your overwhelming response, we were able to set aside enough funds for another food distribution in the near future for another 1000 families. We pray that God only continues to multiply what He has started through you all. Furthermore, we pray God pours into you all a double portion of what you’ve entrusted to us this season.
Love you all more than you know,