J.D. Hite, minister of Powell Christian Church, flew into Haiti, Friday, Jan. 22.
J.D. Hite, minister of Powell Christian Church, flew into Haiti, Friday, Jan. 22.
Hite led six Ohio residents on the trip to Grande Goave, Haiti, to help secure and clean up the Lifeline Christian Mission compound about 40 miles from Port-au-Prince.
"We are taking (people) to do reconstruction ... so we can clear home sites, as well as securing the compound for food and medical aid," Hite told ThisWeek prior to leaving.
Hite was accompanied by Powell resident and church member Nick Lamatrice, Doug Pogue of the Columbus area, Rich and McKinnley of the Dayton area, Mary Beth Minear of Jameston and George Reuss of Cincinnati, Lifeline Christian Mission's Web site said.
A private plane flew the group into the Jacmel Airport, Haiti. The group traveled to the compound by four-wheel drive trucks, he said, in an e-mail.
The mission's compound has been damaged by the earthquakes, Hite said.
"Our concrete block walls are down. Our school roof has collapsed. Our (medical) clinic has suffered some damage but is structurally sound, as with the main building. Our well is intact and our seven-acre complex -- most of which is bare ground -- has 1,000 or more people sleeping there as a make-shift refugee camp -- people who are afraid to sleep in their homes or whose homes were destroyed by the quakes," Hite said prior to leaving.
Hite recounted what he saw upon reaching the mission Friday: "When we entered the mission complex, instead of seven acres of mostly open field, we realized what we were facing. A huge refugee camp, composed of young and old, and living in tents made of sticks, rope and bed sheets had been planted. . . .
"Everyone has lost someone close to them. In a house one block from the mission a mother and 5-year-old boy were killed while the father was in the U.S. on business. It was just one of the stories we've heard, but you don't need to hear them to read them on the faces of the people that surround us. The collapsed buildings are gut-wrenching, to be frank, and as I write this it has made an impression on me. I find myself just amazed at the destruction and in awe of the scope."
The Powell Christian Church has helped people in Haiti since the congregation began in 1989, Hite said earlier. During the past several years, church members have traveled to Haiti to help at the compound.
Hite traveled there for the first time in 2005.
Before the quakes hit, church members were planning to travel there in February. Hite is not sure if commercial airplane travel will be restored to Haiti by then.
Hite said people can donate to the relief effort through the Powell Christian Church or through the Lifeline Christian Mission organization, headquartered in Westerville.
For more information, call the church at (614) 844-5000 or visit www.powellchristian.com. For more information on Lifeline Christian Mission, call (614) 794-0108 or visit www.lifeline.org.
Hite's full e-mail reads:
Here's an update from our mission in Grande Goave Haiti. The number of dead in the village is amazingly low compared to the devastation. We only have around 100 confirmed dead in a town of roughly 12,000 people. I cannot send photos, because the satellite service we use for Internet will not give us any more usage allowance and communication with the states is too vital to be interrupted by their cutting us off again for going over. Here is the story starting at Wednesday.
As I prepared my speech for the local minister's fellowship I learned about the 6.1 aftershock that hit near our mission in Haiti. After I sent my e-mail asking if they were OK, the email came in at 7:33 Wednesday morning to get a plane with room for myself, Nick Lamatrice, and five other people to be determined and get to Haiti ASAP.
I called my wife to tell her and forgot to tell my daughter "happy birthday" when she answered the phone. Kim asked me what I still needed from the store, so she could get it for me while I made the arrangements. I then phoned my leadership team at the church and prepared for a day of phone/e-mail traffic to secure the flight, gather supplies, and get the team together. Then I had my daughter's birthday dinner with my family and then an hour at Magic Mountain.
Thursday (Jan. 21) was even more intense. We did not have confirmation from all of the potential team members. While I was soliciting our much needed donations for reconstruction, I was also interviewing prospective team members. All of this was happening with a 7 a.m. departure time scheduled for Friday (Jan. 22) morning. At 6:13 p.m. (less than 12 hours before rendezvous in Dayton) our last team member was confirmed. By now I have learned that many people are willing and able to help until the reality of a one-way ticket to a disaster area is offered to them. But, I've also learned that God makes some people with a sense of duty so powerful the threats of earthquakes, fires, etc., have no effect on them.
Friday began with a 3:30 a.m. wake up and a 4:30 departure to catch our plane. Two of the team members had trouble finding the airport and were calling for directions as I drove. Having never been to this airport, I assure you I was very little help. But, we all arrived, met our pilot, and were in the air in no time. We landed in Jacksonville for fuel and although we received a nice welcome with thanks for what we were doing, we had to make our first adjustment. The island where we had intended to refuel was out of the jet fuel we needed. We had to fly to Cacaos instead.
At Cacaos we met several other planes of missionaries and relief workers who were stuck on the island with aid for Haiti. It was because they had run out of other types of aviation fuel, but we were able to get what we needed. After talking to customs we were taken into the lobby which was filled with homemade sandwiches, fruit, water, chips, Gatorade, etc. The customs agent and a woman from the airport told us that the people who lived on the island had been bringing this food for relief workers and we should help ourselves. It was a tremendous blessing to feel so appreciated even before really "doing" anything.
We also met some Canadians who had been stuck there waiting for their helicopter to be repaired. They were members of the Canadian equivalent of the coast guard and they had the chopper running as we taxied to the runway. After flying over Port-au-Prince and they being bounced by some intense turbulence crossing the mountains, we began our descent into Jacmel, Haiti. Our pilot was awesome, both as a pilot and a Christian. He put us on that runway when it looked as though we could reach out and grab a banana off the trees encroaching upon the field. Then he got us stopped at the rocks on the end of the runway. If we had needed 20 more feet of runway, it would have been a whole different story.
The Canadian military had set up a tower and were running flight control, as all civilian capabilities were destroyed. As we taxied to our spot and parked we were greeted by both a military ground controller and a civilian aid worker. They told us what we needed to know and the Canadians even entered our passport information to check us in to Haiti. As we walked into what is left of the terminal to check in we said hello to the men that we just left in Cacaos (they beat us there!).
The civilians had a pretty great system of relief coordination already on the ground and they had made contact with our driver before we even landed. This was where our pilot really stepped up. He was approached by the relief leader to help get some doctor's back into the country, which like us came with no return plans in place. He didn't even hesitate, he said he could take seven people home and they were boarding as we drove off.
They allowed our truck onto the tarmac for loading as a U.S. Navy Helicopter was landing with supplies. BTW-The helicopter could have fit our entire team and vehicle. The U.S. military is here and they are working very hard to coordinate relief and many things beyond that could be said, but the time really isn't right. I assure you; however, our men and women in the Navy and Marines working here should give you a tremendous sense of pride in your country. The Haitian people love our military and they are supremely deserving of your support and respect. As well as our neighbor's to the north.
Gasoline was not available at the stations so people were selling it in gallon plastic bottles. Our driver bought some and this was a huge mistake. As we crossed the mountains, the road was barely open because of landslides. In many places there were boulders larger than the Ford truck we were in, that required some perilous maneuvering to get passed. The water and dirt in the gas began to clog the filter. Having your truck spit, sputter, and backfire on a mountaintop in Haiti as darkness falls provides a truly unique experience. I personally do not recommend it. But we nursed the truck the last 10-15 miles into a town full of rubble seen through our headlights as the sunlight finally gave way.
When we entered the mission complex, instead of seven acres of mostly open field, we realized what we were facing. A huge refugee camp, composed of young and old, and living in tents made of sticks/rope/bed sheets had been planted where we would have walked straight to clinic and parked our vehicle. We ate dinner in the dining hall then had a meeting to assess needs and abilities before unpacking and settling in.
The first one for us hit at 4:30 a.m. Saturday. It was nothing compared to what they have been through, but you wouldn't sleep through it. We named it our 4:30 shake-up call. Cleaning, organizing, assessing and securing have been our first priorities. More than a few of the people could return home, but they are so traumatized they can't imagine sleeping inside. Everyone has lost someone close to them. In a house one block from the mission a mother and 5 year old boy were killed while the father was in the U.S. on business. It was just one of the stories we've heard, but you don't need to hear them to read them on the faces of the people that surround us. The collapsed buildings are gut-wrenching to be frank and as I write this it has made an impression on me. I find myself just amazed at the destruction and in awe of the scope.
The Haitian people will tell you they are fine, they smile and tell you it's no big thing. Because, that is how they face the world. Smile and pretend its ok while you sleep on the dirt under a blanket in another person's yard because you've lost everything or you're too afraid to sleep in your own bed. They are unbelievably tough people, but this is different. My hope is that this time, we are different too. George Ruess is one of our team members. George told one of the new team members, "Haiti is the toughest place you'll ever love." He's right.
Sunday was the first church service held in the church structure. The team built some braces for the two damaged posts and Bob DeVoe really insisted to the church staff the meeting be held in the building. Every night in the camp, the Haitian staff has held worship services and preached, but the building has been empty. This really is a first step to a return to normalcy. Roughly 450 people packed into the church and from 9-noon God's name was praised, prayed in, and preached to a crowd of people uniquely aware that He is the only one who cannot be moved. The most permanent things of this world are only a shadow and sometimes they are exposed as the fragile and temporary things they are. What matters most are the people we have the chance to show God's love, when the opportunity presents itself.
After worship we were shaking hands and getting hugs from the people and the children. (As I write this we are getting hit with an aftershock, it's a decent one) A little boy who was probably about 4 years old came from the back of the church, after most people had left, to shake my hand. He took my hand and said, "Thank you, Jesus." As he turned to leave I said, "Thank you, Jesus" right back to him.
Powell Christian Church