Haiti's Devastation & Restoration

A team of college students serve on a mission trip with the Global Aid Network.

  • by Rich Atkinson
Photos by Ted Wilcox

Patrick Lee (above, center) shuttles past cracked walls and broken glass at the Port-au-Prince, Haiti, airport.

Somber, he understands that the January 2010 earthquake shattered more than just buildings in and around the Haitian capital.

The recent graduate from the University of California at San Diego knows about the deeper issues of hunger, homelessness and despair.

He has come to help, but he’s not sure how or what difference he can make in just 18 days.

The 40 team members, dressed alike in For Haiti t-shirts, flow together in a river of red.

These college students, recent graduates and Cru staff members comprise the 2nd of 3 back-to-back-to-back teams coming to this devastated Caribbean country. They’ve joined Cru's Hope for Haiti summer mission trip.

About 12 miles away, the town of Chambrun marks the location of a 35-acre compound owned by Nehemiah Vision Ministries, part of Cru Haiti.

The summer teams help the Haitians provide relief and create infrastructure for long-term ministry.

This partnership combines churches, the U.S. Campus Ministry, The JESUS Film Project®, the humanitarian aid division of Cru called GAiN, and Cru Haiti.

On the 2nd day, 15 Haitian students meet the Americans in the gray, cinder-block dining hall. Most of these Haitians will be working as interpreters; all of them are involved with Cru Haiti.

Patrick meets Ordinier “Jimmy” Jean, 28, and the 2 other Haitian men who will join a small-group Bible study with him and 4 other Americans.

They ask what each other studied in school and begin to learn Creole. But it’s the earthquake that has brought these cultures together.

Patrick first heard about the January 12 earthquake online, glancing at headlines. The next morning he discovered the horrors of the magnitude 7.0 quake.

The senior human biology major pursued going to Haiti right away. But the responses he received back were “no” or “not yet.”

Undeterred, he prayed, should I go? He sensed God directing him to Psalm 62 -- the same psalm used by Christian rapper Lecrae, one of his favorite musicians, in his Haiti-relief song, Far Away.

He saw this as God’s confirmation to go. Sometime later, Patrick heard about the Cru trip and registered.

Jimmy experienced the earthquake much differently. He was at school when his mother called and asked him to come home right away.

The accounting major initially told her, “No, I have another class to attend.”

“I want to talk with you,” she insisted.

So he left for home. Soon, the shaking started.

It knocked the stocky young man down. He stood up but fell down again.

Jimmy heard a loud bang and then watched as buildings fell almost instantly.

Arriving home, he found his home had collapsed.

“Jimmy! Jimmy! Don’t go inside!” his neighbor yelled. Cries and groans filled his street. “It’s really dangerous!”

The next morning, his little brother asked, “Jimmy, did mother die?”

“I don’t know,” he said.

They tried to go inside and search. That’s when Jimmy saw his mother’s hand. They tried to find their grandmother.

“We realized they all died,” he says.

The earthquake killed 230,000 people, about the same as were lost in 14 countries during the Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004.

Being the oldest sibling, Jimmy inherited the role of mother and father to his 4 brothers and 4 sisters.

They were forced to move to an internally displaced persons camp, as did 1.2 million Haitians, living in tent and tarp cities (above, right) around the epicenter.

The IDP camps are out of sight today as perspiration pours down Patrick’s face and stings his eyes.

The 6-foot, 215-pounder scoops rocks from a field into a wheelbarrow. He wears an orange wristband with the words “Answer the call” on his left wrist.

For the last 3 summers, Patrick has traveled to Mongolia on mission trips with Korea Cru USA. In Mongolia, he focused on teaching English and evangelism.

But this trip is different. Now he is building a framework for future ministry.

Patrick is thankful for the team that went before him, which only a few weeks ago arrived and put in showers, bathrooms and the water purification system in Chambrun. Each team’s work builds on the one that came before.

Patrick spends the day digging trenches, moving boxes and helping clear rocks off a field. He is preparing an area at the compound for soccer games and outreaches for the community. He must work and wait for God to move.

After about a week, Patrick is asked to emcee group meetings because of his welcoming personality and booming voice.

“I enjoy making people feel comfortable,” he says. He is discovering his role.

Patrick and his team also visited 6 IDP camps, going tent-to-tent to initiate spiritual conversations, pray for the people, play with the children, and distribute food and hygiene kits.

At the 2nd camp, they show The Story of Jesus for Children, the children’s version of the JESUS film.

Cru staff member T.J. Habel asks Patrick to tell the crowd of 300 people about how God changed his life.

At the showing, Patrick tells the story of when his grandfather suffered a heart attack. Watching him in a hospital bed, Patrick felt helpless. Months later, someone at college helped him understand his need for a savior.

“I used to be afraid of death,” says Patrick. “But once I received Christ and knew him intimately, I no longer became afraid of death.”

Patrick explained that knowing Christ personally creates assurance so that when you die, you can know you will go to heaven.

His grandfather’s heart attack also began Patrick’s dream of becoming a doctor.

“I want to go to the poorest places on earth,” he says, “the places no one else wants to go.”

Ironically, when Jimmy was a kid, he had wished to become a doctor, too. But pursuing that dream now in Haiti will be difficult.

“I hope to take care of my family,” Jimmy says now. “I hope to have a job.”

He received pay for translating, but Jimmy also benefited from the Bible study time with Patrick and the others. They learn about spiritual leadership during their hour-long discussions together on weekday mornings.

And Jimmy’s helping his people. He joins Patrick and the team at another IDP camp -- their 6th one to visit.

After meeting people in front of their tents and seeking to start spiritual conversations, the team helps with food distribution. From the truck, Patrick and a few others give out food, hygiene kits and baby food while other team members do crowd-control.

As each family-unit comes to receive it, Patrick lowers a 15-pound IDP kit off the truck. They walk away balancing them on their heads.

Later, Patrick notices a teenager taking food who had received some the day before at another camp. Patrick gets angry; someone else may not get any.

“He cheated the system,” he says, “and others were lacking.”

Jimmy saw too. “We both got upset,” says Patrick. But Jimmy knows that living in an IDP camp can make a man feel desperate.

On their last day together, the American and Haitian students and staff members begin with singing. Jimmy helps lead:

“Oh no! You never let go, through the calm and through the storm. Oh, no! You never let go, in every high and every low. Oh, no, you never let go, Lord, you never let go of me.”

Afterward, in Bible study the new friends talk about their strengths and weaknesses.

Jimmy encourages his American friends: “I was greeted every day by, ‘Good morning, how are you doing?’ I feel like you are my brothers. I feel stronger.”

Patrick tells Jimmy, “When I first got here, I thought there was no hope. You really know what true worship is, because you still worship Him even though you lost everything.”

Jimmy has demonstrated the lesson of Psalm 62: Hope is not in circumstances, possibilities or options, but in God alone.

The group prays and hugs each other. They know the work has just begun, even though their trip is over.

As Duane Zook, CEO of GAiN, says, “What came down in 35 to 50 seconds is going to take -- not days, not months -- years and maybe decades to rebuild.”

That rebuilding will have to take place with others now.

Patrick boards American Airlines flight #1004.

Jimmy stays behind. “We know we are the future of Haiti,” he says.”