First of all, let me say that the main reason I went down to Pillatre' Haiti is that Manno Laguerre (whom I have known from college in 1983) asked me to speak at his 25th anniversary working in this church. The story is amazing. From a stick church that his father started to a building that seats 1,000 + Haitians in 25 years - this is an incredible God story. The celebration was incredible - starting with a Saturday night banquet that honored all the people involved throughout the years. Great testimonies to Manno and Prisca. Then the Sunday worship service dedicating the new building to God's service was over the top. I was the preacher and I didn't get up until 3 1/2 hours after the service started. It was one of the top three preaching experiences in my life. The Spirit was moving and the translator was awesome. What an eternal thrill! I will never forget it. Of course, as you know by now our trip took a most interesting turn on Tuesday, January 12th when we were scheduled to return. Following are the events as I remember them...
We woke up at 5:00 a.m. to be at the airport at 6:00 to catch the first flight out (we knew we couldn't fit all of our team on one plane so we were hoping to get there on two planes to Port au Prince before our American Airlines flight left for Ft. Lauderdale). It had been pouring non-stop for days and the roads were flooding and the streets were bad (seriously - you've never seen a pot-hole - trust me). But we packed our stuff in pouring rain and headed to the airport. I was in the front car with Manno (he drives the most aggressive and was pushing to get to the airport). When we arrived (about 5 miles in 20 minutes - again the roads) there was a plane on the tarmac ready to take off. Manno ran in (past security - he owns this town) and got them to allow four passengers on (but they had to come right now). Since Sara was in the car following with the luggage in the truck behind; I sent the other four in my car (Jason Smith, Jim Probst, Tyler Hari, Jason Smith) onto the plane. There was literally five seconds to make a decision and our thought was we'll see you in an hour and a half. They flew off in the rain and the rest of the group went through security (again think Kindergarten registration instead of "security") and began waiting for the next flight. That flight never came. It was raining sideways - with low clouds and no visibility. We prayed and prayed for our plane to come and at least get us to Port au Prince. There was a 4:30 flight that we knew we could get on and at least get back to the U.S. Manno was to fly with us for a meeting in downtown Port (he is the president for Samaritan's Purse in Haiti). Please God, get us to Port au Prince (we prayed this until 2:00 when Manno, said "let's go back to the house, there are no flights today"). A little disheartened we returned to our host's house (we were ready to come home)
We all put on warm and dry clothes and I began to work on Sunday's sermon with the help of Manno's commentaries from his office. Sara and Shelly were trying to reschedule our flights (even though it was still pouring and we didn't know if a plane would be in Cap Haitian in the morning). About 5:30 I was lying in a bed reading a commentary on Luke and the floor began to rumble and I thought "wow that's weird", but it continued and I was actually bouncing off the bed and the bookshelves were shaking and I staggered to the door and then it was over. "Dude that we just had an earthquake!" We were all kind of humored with it all. There was no damage and it was just another part of the adventure. I casually texted my sons to let them know we just had an earthquake but we were o.k.
Meanwhile (this was related to me later) back at the church my mom (receptionist at church and everyone's grandma) received a call from someone asking where I was and that there was huge earthquake in Haiti. Also, meanwhile the four that we had separated from that morning were in Ft. Lauderdale and were told that there was a major quake in Haiti. Needless to say, everyone freaked! For our part, we were eating supper and enjoying each other's company and wondering how the next day of travel would go.
It was two full hours after the initial shock (and several other tremors) that I decided (and this is Holy Spirit stuff) to turn on the t.v. after five days of not turning it on. They have satellite and as I was searching for ESPN I happened on CNN and suddenly things got serious. I called everyone in to see Wolf Blitzer - and it didn't take long to know it was bad. Manno and Prisca immediately thought of family and friends in Port au Prince and they started making calls (they only got through to a few). We thought of those at home. I got my phone and began getting tons of texts and e-mails. As a grace from God I was able to text our chairman of the elders, my administrative assistant, and some others who I now forget that we were o.k. but didn't know how we were going to get home. Shortly after we lost all communication ability...nothing.
Then we prayed. We told God that if he wanted us to stay then we would (some have criticized us for leaving when people were in need - we asked Manno if we needed to stay and help, but we were no good as a matter of fact our presence was a pressure and strain on him ) and if he wanted us to get home to provide a way. We had no idea what would happen next.
The next morning we were up at 5:30 again. It was pouring harder (if that is even possible). Manno's truck wouldn't start (we tried to push it to start - all we got was wet). We crammed into the cab of another truck and were at the airport at 6:00. Closed! Not flying today. Option one, gone. We went to a bus station in Cap Haitian - closed. But we waited for an hour and a half. They had a line heading to Santiago in the Dominican Republic and providentially there were enough seats for us all to get on board. Manno was relieved and so were we. Why was I happy to be heading to the DR?
1. My Spanish is better than my Creole. I have travelled alone in spanish speaking countries before and I can get a cab, find a bathroom, a hotel and food. I knew I could get our group to the airport.
2. Communication with home would be possible. As our church family was worried about us, we were worried that they were worried. (this is now Wednesday and the press had contacted Tyler and Mark early that morning - on three hours sleep they were back at the church office working on communication through the drama. They did radio, t.v. and newspaper interviews and coordinated communications via our web site for our church family - the phone was ringing off the hook. I was working on my sermon and still not sure how this would all turn out. About 10 miles before the border I realized I had service on my blackberry - communication was open and we began letting everyone know where we were and what we were trying to do. The news was still that the border was closed. We got through with no problem.
I texted Brook Brotzman who is the head of GO ministries and asked if he could help us. Within minutes he texted that Tim would meet us at the bus station, take us to Gabriel's house, feed us and get us to the airport the next day. It was beautiful! We settled in, took a deep breath and thanked God. Within hours we were sitting on a porch on a cool Dominican evening eating Domino's Pizza (apparently dominos delivers everywhere!). We were scheduled to fly out of Santiago at 9:45 the next morning and get home to B/N by 6:14 p.m. There is more to tell, but I will skip to our arrival. Tyler had prepared us that news media would be there for our arrival, but I was still overcome with emotion when I saw so many from our church there to greet us, my mom and my son. It was awesome. And then life was back to normal...literally. I had a quad grande americano at Starbucks Friday morning. It was beautiful.
We had a prayer time on Sunday night for Haiti and as of this writing our church has donated over $44,000 for haiti relief. the story continues...