by Mike Zurn, Assistant Director - Haiti Bible Mission
On the evening of February 7th, a family practice physician, 4 nurses, a firefighter/paramedic and I arrived at Youth With a Mission - Santo Domingo to embark on a 5 day medical mission at Misión Rescate - located in the shadow of Haiti’s ruined Presidential Palace and a conglomeration of temporary shanties that filled the sidewalks nearby.
With Port au Prince’s International Airport closed to commercial airlines, the only way to reach Misión Rescate was by ground from the Dominican Republic. From the Dominican Republic, our team shared a bus with 15 medical providers from Los Angeles for a 12 hour ride to Port au Prince. We parted company at Mision Rescate - and got to work. Before our bags were unpacked, our physician sutured a severe ankle wound.
Dr. Abner, a God-fearing physician who happens to be Haitian, was in Port au Prince on January 12th. He explained during our orientation the difficult conditions during the early days after the earthquake and testified with power to God’s grace and power during that time. With help from Youth With a Mission - Santo Domingo, Misión Rescate was born. The “clinic” (originally a small booth set up on the sidewalk near the National Palace) was moved to the National Police Headquarters nearby, affording the “clinic” protection by Haiti’s highly trained “CIMO” unit (a SWAT team, of sorts).
Though the former Headquarter’s building was damaged and vacated, and no longer suitable for police operations, four rooms within were converted into make-shift clinics for womens health, pediatric care, a general clinic and an operatory. Feeding these clinic rooms was a triage area and pharmacy, under tarps, across the driveway from the former headquarters.
The triage area became very hot by mid-day, like a greenhouse. Nevertheless, triage saw between 550 - 650 per day. What triage could not handle was referred to one of the four “specialty clinics” described earlier.
Working and Living
The former police headquarters was a suitable site for the ministry. It had operational showers, toilets and was structurally as safe as any standing building in Port. If you look closely at the picture, you will see a tent or two on the roof. All of the volunteers from the States and South America slept on the roof. (At night, we were often visited by rats, looking for food from our “camp”.)
On our first night, most of us slept outside, under the stars. Bugs caused some of us to seek tent shelter on subsequent nights. We were usually in our sleeping bags by 10, and up by 6:00 AM.
Across the drive from the Headquarters building were the Mission’s office, pharmacy, general meeting area, warehouse and kitchen. These facilities were all under tarps. After one particular night of steady rain, these facilities became drenched. The next day, the Mission team emptied and re-assembled the entire area.
Three Day National Holiday
On Thursday, the government declared a national holiday which closed all businesses in Haiti, including Mision Rescate, from Thursday through Saturday in observance of the one month anniversary of the earthquake. It was a holiday for national mourning, repentance and seeking God’s face and favor. The Clinic turned into an emergency only medical facility and the staff treated injuries, dehydration and other serious acute conditions.
The holiday began on the first day at roughly 4:00 AM with blarring amplified music from the streets in front of the Mission. Crowds began to assemble at dawn.
US troops were stationed on our roof for surveillance purposes. Singing, preaching and more singing and more preaching continued until noon. Throughout the day, crowds assembled to seek God’s blessing. It was an unusual experience - but great to see and be a part of a national time of mourning, prayer, repentance and seeking God.
It was during these three days, that I became more aware of CIMO’s protective role over Misión Rescate . During the first day of the national holiday, the CIMO commander did not permit our group to provide emergency medical care in the street - because doing so would require a CIMO guard to accompany us and ordering a guard to go with us would prevent that officer from personally participating in the national holiday.
Personal Stories of Note
I met a Haitian named Ronald who originally came to Mision Rescate for a tooth repair. He came each day afterwards to teach me some Creole and to pray. On our last day together, he gave me an introductory book to Creole grammar because he had two - and he explicitly invoked the principle in Luke 3 - "The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same."
I have a friend in Chicago who has an Aunt in Port au Prince. I was able to telephone my friend’s aunt and give her some money, through some friends close to her.
Finally, one night, I went outside of the CIMO compound alone. I struck up a conversation with a fellow who lived in one of those sidewalk shanties I mentioned at the beginning of this report. I later went to his “house” - to pray with his family. Little did I realize my absence from the compound caused a stir at Misión Rescate. Upon my return, I was duly chastised, but when I explained the spiritual component of my visit to the street, Dr. Abner smiled and said, “What you did was make a good problem, Mike.” I respect Dr. Abner very much.
There are other anecdotes, but they all have to do with faithful Haitian believers doing what they can to thrive in dire circumstances - and live for God.
Our team saw hope and promise as well as suffering and death. Some lives were saved by the ministry. Many more were touched.
Having devotions amidst the destruction made words like those found in Psalm 60 palpable:
Psalm 60: 2 - 4
You have shaken the land and torn it open; mend its fractures, for it is quaking. You have shown your people desperate times; you have given us wine that makes us stagger. But for those who fear you, you have raised a banner to be unfurled against the bow.
I would like to thank the Haiti Bible Mission Medical Team - those who went and those who financially and prayerfully supported the trip.
Team Members: Brian Fitzgerald, Jean Zinnen, Dr. Deb Drengenberg, Lynn McCoy, Beth Fiorini, Heidi Taylor and Mike Zurn