Haiti has never been an easy pill to swallow. When I first arrived after the earthquake, my heart and mind were blank canvases ready to embrace the brokenness of the infamous NGO blackhole. I was naive to any world outside the borders of a first world nation. I had no reference. Poor was just a concept and desperation had no name. Then, I arrived. Quickly poverty was my unavoidable neighbor and became an unsettling acquaintance. It was hard to see such beautiful people oppressed by disaster & poverty; two layers one would never hope to co-exist. But I began to live with it, and attributed the state of this nation with this horrific natural disaster. I had a hope that in due time I would see Haiti transformed.
Six years has passed since the earthquake with many trips in between. Anyone can attest much can change in five years. I for one wasn’t naive anymore; if anything, I’ve recovered from a jaded heart. But as I stepped off the plane one thing remained the same: Haiti. The smell of burning trash, dust and oil still permeated the senses. The colors of rust and shades of dirt coated everything in sight amongst the faded Caribbean pastels. Tent cities disappeared and familiar streets were no longer landfills; yet it wasn’t indicative of progress. From what I hear, people were merely pushed away from the public eye as dirt brushed under the rug. So with this disturbing thought greeting my return, the team and I began to embark on this one week blitz to bless 1000 families
Landing in Port-Au-Prince, Philipson and I spent the first few days traveling to the largest food distribution centers in Haiti. Shopping for rice, beans, and buckets for water filters for an estimated 5000-7000 people wasn’t an easy task. We had three different teams to procure all of the resources over the course of a week. One thing was very clear. There is no Costco. There is no Walmart. And the idea of wholesale supply chains was a joke. When we picked up the beans in Les Cayes, I’m pretty sure we purchased most of the cities inventory. We wiped whole store fronts clean one at a time.
I’ve never measured food in such large quantities, as I’ve always reserved the measurement of tons for the occasional elephants and whales. But at the end of the day, we stood gazing at over 17 tons of food. 27,500 lbs of rice and 8000 lbs of beans was a sight to see. Unfortunately what we forgot to respectfully calculate is the amount of man power needed to take it on and off the trucks. No machines, just pure man power.
Thankfully God rallied an amazing team that understood why they were there. Some had never been on missions before. No training, but just thrown into the fire of Haiti. I admit I myself was skeptical of how they would handle it. But God sent, leaders. He sent servant hearts ready to be disrupted toward revelation & love. Even more beautiful, was the opportunity to work along side Haitian brothers & sisters. Having Haitian pastors & lay leaders on the team gave us front row seats to witnessing the future leaders of this country before our eyes. In a nation raised by poverty and entitlement, to see humble and selfless leaders serving their very own will bring the gospel to new life.
So with a team of 19, this motley crew single-handedly made this emergency mission possible. They carried tons of food (literally); hand washed and installed 1000 water filters, scooped 8000 lbs of beans into 1000 sacks; all while carrying a constant heart of sacrifice to see the people of Haiti see a better tomorrow.
But as with any call of God it wasn’t without warfare against our team. I’ve learned over the years that when your operations face direct opposition, you’re probably doing something right. Days before our distribution, the city of Les Cayes was facing massive tension as food distributions from different organizations were going wrong. 24 hours before our scheduled distribution, a relief effort by the port 1 mile away had gone sour and three people were shot by the police. Three more shootings followed. One victim unfortunately was a teenage boy, causing the city to go up in an uproar. Riots and protests proceeded outside our doors as looting and towers of smoke from burning tires covered the city landscape. Rioters paraded the teenage boys body down the streets to protest and spur on anger against the local authorities. It was heartbreaking.
An hour later, somehow a truck from that very distribution at the port coincidentally found itself right in front of our doors. It had detoured from the main road to avoid the rioters. Mind you, our guest house was a few blocks nestled away safely from the main street. What ensued next brewed the perfect storm.
Across the street there was another guest house a stones throw away. A team had just returned from an unsuccessful distribution where they had no choice to close the truck and return home. What they didn't know was that residents from that small town followed them for two hours to the guest house, finding them standing at their front gate demanding food. And like clockwork, the truck from the port passed our houses colliding with our demanding guests. Screaming and fighting ensued as the truck was being raided for food.
We ran to the gate to deadbolt and lock all the doors as Philipson shouted for every foreigner to hide in the house. In times of desperation & relief, any sign of foreigners can lead to the conclusion there is food nearby. Ironically unbeknownst to these people we had 17 tons of food right under their nose. Police eventually rushed to the scene to break up the fiasco and the truck full of food went on its way.
After the dust had settled we were quickly acquainted with our reality. The riots, the food, and the despair all collided too close to home. Some of our team was genuinely shaken. The oldest of us, Clyde, happened to be on the rooftop and witnessed the whole episode in clear sight. With tears in his eyes, he shared he had never seen anything like it in his whole life… There’s an unavoidable weight that loads your heart when such select words come from a man seasoned from life.
I couldn’t help but empathize so deeply, because I knew nothing could ever prepare one to see raw human despair. No TV Show or sensationalized infomercial is comparable to witnessing the pain of human suffering. This kind is unique; birthed from a basic element you and I never worry about: food. It’s painful to see, too familiar to ignore, and unjust to mankind. You want to do everything you can to stop it, but aren’t always given the powers to do so.
When leading a team through civil unrest and disaster, it’s been proven as wisdom to lean in on God’s voice. What was He saying? What is He teaching us through all this? At the least, one thing was very clear - we were prepared more than ever to face turmoil, and serve God’s children in the face of it. There would be no more surprises, and no unwarranted reactions from the team. We could execute our distribution with sobriety and without fear in our hearts.
From this one event, our playing field had radically changed. Any box truck could be an indicator for food and now a target. We also had to load our our trucks without anyone in the neighborhood noticing. While still adjusting to these challenges, we received word of even worse news. During the civil unrest, the storefront of our very own contracted trucking company was set on fire. Out of fear, the owner called and expressed he would no longer be a part of our operation. It was the night before our D-Day, and suddenly the legs of our operations were completely cut under us. All we could do was pray and believe this was God’s mission and not ours.
It was getting late without any hopes of a truck. So our head of security decided to take a break from the stress, and take a walk onto the main road. When suddenly two ginormous headlights approached beaming through the dark & dusty oncoming traffic. He ran and hailed the truck to stop, taking the slim chance to offer our risky job. The truck driver replied “Yes! I’ve been looking for a job since morning!” When the truck pulled up to our gate, it was even bigger than the two box trucks we originally had. God provided a 40ft monster that could carry the 17 ton payload in a single sweep. The mission was green lit back again and the operation was a go.
So at 2AM, the team began to load our newfound truck in secret. It was the only way to ensure our stockpile of food would get transported unnoticed. One by one, the food quietly flowed through the assembly line of helpers under the Haitian moonlight. All you could hear was the shaking of rice and heavy breathing of hard workers. I remember praying over each bag of rice that came across my hands, asking God to bless the family it would soon be touching. Watching the team work so diligently, I knew everyone had the same in mind.
19 servants, 35,000 lbs of food, no disruptions. In less than two hours, we found ourselves sending off the truck to the coastal province of Damassin, Haiti. Our first challenge was overcome and the real work was about to begin. We sent the truck ahead of the pack to separate it from us foreigners to ensure the safety of our payload. Our head of security would go along to ensure it would get there without interruptions.
Everything was smooth sailing, until along the way they encountered a massive uphill. It seems the weight of the food took a toll on the engine, and didn’t have the power to pull. Our food was officially stuck and exposed. Then the worse case scenario had presented itself. Onlookers began to notice as they saw the truck with engines revving, and lingering at the bottom of the hill. They put two and two together and approached the truck. Inevitably, a small scurry started as people began arguing for the food.
The truck driver in a panic stuck his head out, and noticed in the distance a man in a tractor. Then a brilliant idea came to mind. He took a chance and screamed: “Help! This is food to help the victims in Damassin!” Now everyone knew for sure it was tons of food. But low and behold, the tractor approached heroically driving through the crowd to push our truck up the hill to safety. In a time of self-preservation and survival, this man sacrificed his safety and reputation to help. Whether he was just a man with sudden compassion, or an Angel of God, he singlehandedly saved our operation.
Needless to say the challenges to even get to Damassin were many. But this only fueled us to finish well. We still had many challenges ahead of us. There was too much uncertainty of what would happen during the distribution. It was hard enough that we could only give food to 1000 families out of 5000 in the province. Would people riot? Would there be order?… Only time would tell.
To be continued ……