It started as a Sunday afternoon adventure to Baraderes…
Greetings from Haiti – many of you have commented that you’re waiting for our next blog update. We might give all kinds of excuses – so busy, no Internet, no power, off solving our total lack of water, etc. While all these excuses may be reasonable and accurate, we have longed to write and share some news. Even more, we long for and appreciate your prayers.
Today’s story is about an amazing journey. It started as a Sunday afternoon adventure to the historic colonial town of Baraderes. It ended with an opportunity and the blessing of walking in the footsteps of our Lord and His disciples!
We had heard many comments about this town and have been looking for the opportunity and time to make the trip. Geographically, Baraderes is due north of Bonne Fin on 2 hours of very rugged road. At times, the road was nearly impassable and took us up the side of one mountain and down the next, mountain after mountain. The town is a very old merchant town on the north coast of the south Haitian peninsula – beyond Baraderes to the north is the Atlantic Ocean. Many of the homes in
Baraderes were built in prior centuries with an architecture that was unique to a French colony at the time, and are still as lovely today as when they were built.
Plans for our journey came together on a recent Sunday after worship services. Many of our missionary families were away on furlough; we had our grandson, Josh visiting; Heather Steiner from Winthrop, MN had been at the hospital as an accounting intern and Stu Kilgus from Remington, IN is our summer facility intern. So the five of us loaded up the Gator with boxes of rice for families along the way, granola bars and candy for the kids and plenty of water for ourselves. It was a beautiful day and we were all very excited about our plans.
As we headed north through the rugged mountains, we marveled at the agriculture ingenuity and tenacity of the local folks. They were growing corn literally out of the rocks and wherever they could dig up a bit of topsoil; they were turning the soil to provide one more miniscule patch to grow some beans or corn. We came upon one very old man (or maybe he just looked old from hard work) that had obviously labored throughout the day to till the side of a very steep hill. He was resting under a tree
near the top so we stopped, approached the hillside and offered him a few bags of dried soup mix – packaged rice, protein and herbs. With the language barrier, he hesitated for a few moments and when he understood, he inched his way down the mountain to accept our offering. Their gratitude is expressed in their eyes.
Eventually, we approached Baraderes from the southwest. The town is made up of many very quaint streets, lined with neighborhoods of families – kids on bikes, grandmothers with canes, mom’s and dad’s having Sunday afternoon visits, old men clustered in the shade over a game of cards. The streets were busy with activity. What was obvious to us was their surprised expressions and astonishment when 5 “blan’s” (white people) rode into town on a green and yellow John Deere Gator. We wondered just what they must have been thinking. What was even more gratifying was their enthusiastic welcome, abundant smiles, shouts of bonswa. The town was immaculate! Much of Haiti is littered and eventually we become accustomed to that – but when you come into a town like Baraderes, you know immediately that these people take pride in their homes and their town.
We were amazed at the architectural beauty of the town center. Perhaps most astonishing was that the houses were constructed out of wood! In nearly all of Haiti and certainly at Hospital Lumiere, buildings including walls and the roofs are made out of cement or the houses in remote villages are made out of mud and stones. Here, we found ancient houses still standing constructed with lumber and painted with a variety of amazing Haitian colors.
So we circled around town a bit and eventually came to where the main road crossed a river. This is the town’s main access to the ocean. The river seemed shallow enough and the locals all encouraged us to continue. They assured us that the road on the other side continued through the town. A crowd was quickly gathering – a green gator being the big attraction – and there was a bit of adventure in crossing the road through the river. So we gunned it and… almost made it!! But almost was not enough and for sure, we were stuck. The more Stu spun the wheels, the deeper in the sand we sank. And knowing only a handful of words (Heather is by far the most fluent) we called in desperation for help. And the crowd continued to grow. Heather was able to convince a young kid to go get help and in no time, we had a crowd of men push us backwards, then on a different track, forward up the far bank.
We thought it was time for celebration so Norma took out the bag of candy and granola bars – and you can only imagine what happened. This is where we say – and the crowd went wild!! There was plenty of jostling and grabbing but clearly, we made some very happy kids (and grown-ups) that day. After a bit, we explored that side of town and then we headed back through the river (without incident) and back into town center.
We made a decision to head out of town to the east – just to explore where the road led to but what we had in mind was to get a bit out of town into neighborhoods where the folks could benefit from the dried soup packets. It seemed backwards at first knowing we had to leave to the southwest but we felt compelled to go and hand out the rice. Initially, we drove out of town a ways and then turned around and headed back stopping often.
The folks in this part of town or maybe we should say just beyond the town lived in much more primitive homes. Many of them were high above the road on rocky cliffs and again, we noticed the clustered homes that make up family neighborhoods. We stopped and visited almost every home and
met some very grateful and humble people. The love of God was exchanged over and over. Bondye beni ou (God bless you) was repeated again and again. We had some Creole Bible storybooks that got into the hands of the kids and we made sure that every family got a portion for their next meal. We are not sharing this in any way to bring credit to ourselves but it’s important to understand this experience as we share the events that follow – the events that changed this Sunday afternoon adventure into an experience close to walking in the footsteps of the disciples.
Our reference here is the numerous Biblical accounts of when Christ and His disciples were surrounded with crowds of people including those who brought their loved ones to be healed. In our day and time, we can’t imagine what it is like to have an injury or illness and not be able to get help. We call an ambulance, we know there will be medical professionals waiting to treat us and we simple know, in most cases, that the cost will be covered in one way or another. But on this Sunday afternoon, we encountered quite a different circumstance.
As we made our way back into town, we noticed a rather large crowd just ahead on the right shoulder of
the road. There was an excitement in the crowd but also, we heard the wailing of a child in serious trouble. As we approached, a young father carried his 3-year-old daughter towards us – child screaming, father with a pleading for help in his eyes. With a our limited understanding of the language here’s what we figured out: the child had fallen into a burning fire and had severely burned her leg and feet – 3 days prior. The leg had a pronounced backward stricture and was charred so deep that it could not be recognized as human tissue. The family had no money, they were unable to take the child to a doctor or hospital and they were in despair. They pleaded for help. We had a monumental decision to make – our hearts were deeply touched but the logistics seemed overwhelming. As hard as it was, we pulled away and drove down the road for about a half-mile, pulled over and stopped the engine so we could talk.
We had a number of problems. There were 5 of us with limited Creole and no idea where there was a
hospital or doctor. We had a Gator that started to show some sort of operational problem – we were guessing that the fuel was either dirty or the fuel filter was plugged. We could drive for a bit and then we’d lose power and perhaps even quit altogether. In 5-10 minutes we’d be up and running again. Bottom line, we were driving a vehicle that we were not even sure would get us back home. We had no idea what to do next.
As we each spoke our heart and talked through various options, we felt and acknowledge a collective lack of wisdom. We agreed that we needed to plead with God to lead us through a decision as we reviewed the situation and the challenges that each option presented. When Jesus walked with His disciples, they could ask him what to do and he would be there to tell them step-by-step. “Go into the town, you will find there a man with a donkey…” Today we have the avenue of fervent prayer to achieve the same outcome. And so we prayed – and then we talked again. There was a very clear difference in our discussion this time. Earlier, we did not know what to do; now, it was ever so clear that we had to do something for this family.
First we made the trip back into town to find a hospital. The gator quit in a family neighborhood about a mile from the hospital so while Heather and Stu walked the rest of the way, Norma, Josh and I stayed with the gator. Within a very short time, the women of the neighborhood escorted us under a tree, gave us water to cool our faces and be refreshed. The children entertained us and the old men tried to understand our very weak Creole. Meanwhile, Heather and Stu found out that the hospital was essentially closed, only 1 person there to guard the door and no doctors anywhere nearby. When we reconnected, we had to make a second decision – can we get this child and a parent back to the Bonne Fin hospital, 2 hours away with a vehicle that couldn’t go a quarter mile without stopping. Our discussions led us to hire a motorcycle taxi, very common in Haiti, to bring the child to our own hospital 2 hours away. How thankful we were that Hospital Lumiere was available for this little child. We called the hospital to be sure someone was on duty and pre-arrange for all services to be paid in advance at no cost to the family. We drove back to the neighborhood and presented our offer. With some choppy Creole, a lot of hand signals, and surrounded by the entire neighborhood, this overwhelmed family
dressed up their little girl in a pretty white dress, Dad put on his white Sunday shirt and the two of them were off to Bonne Fin.
We limped along with our stubborn gator and eventually got home to discover that our little 3-year-old angel was already in surgery. Over the next few days, we provided food and water for this family. The Mom also came the next day and a full recovery is expected. We are very humbled by what happened. We don’t see this in a heroic way. Perhaps it’s more bewilderment, much as the disciples must have felt when Jesus lovingly and patiently addressed the needs of each one that was brought to the roadside as He passed by.
Sending our love,
Norma and Daryl